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Hub gets $13.6m grant to buy foreclosed homes

Federal funding will help to renovate empty properties

By Jenifer B. McKim
Globe Staff / January 16, 2010

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The city of Boston has been awarded $13.6 million in federal funding to help buy and renovate hundreds of foreclosed homes, part of $47.9 million in competitive awards issued in the state this week.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino yesterday said the money will boost the city’s ability to deal with the foreclosure crisis plaguing areas of Dorchester and Roxbury, where abandoned and deteriorating homes are common. Citywide, there are now 860 bank-owned houses.

Officials said they plan to use the grant to boost a two-year effort to help purchase and renovate properties in partnership with area buyers, organizations, and developers. To date, the city has bought 61 properties or is in the process of closing on them, scores more are in the pipeline. “We’re making important progress, but our neighborhoods are still in danger,’’ said Menino.

The grant is part of $2 billion in Recovery Act funding allocated this week by the Department of Housing and Urban Development to states, local governments, and nonprofit housing developers.

In addition to the city, the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corp., a private nonprofit lender that specializes in affordable housing, was awarded $21.8 million, and Community Builders Inc., a nonprofit developer based in Boston, is receiving $12.5 million to spend in Massachusetts, according to federal officials.

Willie Jones, senior vice president for Community Builders, said it plans to buy and fix deteriorating and abandoned multifamily properties in areas hard hit by foreclosures in hopes of improving apartments and increasing values of nearby single-family homes.

Jones said the money is welcome at a time when other types of funding for affordable housing is limited.

“This gives us a shot in the arm and the ability to continue producing and maintaining and preserving affordable housing,’’ Jones said.

Officials from the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corp., said the federal grant will help double the organization’s program to provide loans to organizations and developers buying foreclosed homes in parts of Chelsea, Lawrence, and Worcester, among other cities.

With hundreds of Massachusetts homes being lost to foreclosure each month, housing advocates say the recovery funds are much needed. At the same time, they are pushing for more assistance for distressed borrowers to reduce the number of new foreclosures. Nearly 26,000 Massachusetts homeowners went into foreclosure during the first 11 months of 2009, up 28 percent from the same period in 2008, according to the latest data from Warren Group, a private company that tracks real estate data.

“The foreclosure crisis continues to be a major challenge in the city of Boston and in other communities,’’ said Aaron Gornstein, executive director of the nonprofit Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, a Boston-based organization that focuses on affordable housing. “This funding will go a long way to help stabilize neighborhoods.’’

Jenifer B. McKim can be reached at jmckim@globe.com.