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Pittsfield Health Board Votes Demolition for Multifamily Properties
By Brittany Polito, iBerkshires Staff
05:37AM / Friday, March 15, 2024
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The structure at 89 Daniels Ave., a four-bedroom and two-bath multifamily, has an absentee owner with multiple potential heirs who have not been responsive.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The Board of Health voted for the demolition of two condemned properties and discussed how to preserve other housing stock from this fate.

"It's so unfortunate that we end up kind of with houses that if we could get in somehow much earlier we wouldn't have to take them down," Chair Roberta Elliott said on Tuesday. "It seems like such a late approach."

A house at 135 Lincoln St., a four-bedroom and two-bath multifamily built more than a century ago, has been condemned for a year with no improvement made to the property.

Code Enforcement Officer Andrew Gagnon said it started with an anonymous complaint about a vacant unsecured building and a few days later, it was condemned after an inspection.  

"The owner did secure the property from unlawful entry," he added. "It's since been a year since that original condemnation. There's been no improvement to the property so we are going to issue a demolition order."

Public Health Director Andy Cambi explained that after a year of non-compliance, and if the department sees a threat to the community because it is unsecure and blighted, the department can move forward with the demolition request.

He reported that the property appears to be structurally sound.

"When the board approves that, we give the owners nine days," he said. "There have been opportunities where owners have gotten their request to demolish and have made some movements whether it was to sell the property or rehab the property."

After 90 days, the city can enforce the request by court order or it can go into the city's demolition list, as two or three are knocked down each fiscal year in conjunction with the Department of Community Development. Because this property has active owners, the court order would be issued after that time period.

The structure at 89 Daniels Ave., a four-bedroom and two-bath multifamily also built more than 100 years ago, has an absentee owner with multiple potential heirs who have not been responsive.

"Back in January of 2022, there was an emergency medical call, Pittsfield Police called us out. The house is deteriorating, structural issues, no running water hoarding, unsanitary conditions, no utilities so it was condemned," Gagnon explained.

"A year later in preparation for the order to demolish, the city solicitor's office was contacted to see if there were any potential additional heirs. Some more were found so the process pretty much restarted and that leads us to just this week or last week when I went out to take the photograph where the property is still vacant, still unsecured, and has further deteriorated."

Cambi added that if the property were to catch on fire, it would not be safe for first responders to enter.

Board members urged health officials to have the building secured as soon as possible since the demolition may take some time. They wondered if there were ways of intervention that could prevent properties from reaching this state, such as offering options alternative to demolition like donating the property to Habitat For Humanity.

Cambi explained that it usually takes a couple of years of vacancy before properties end up with requests to demolish. The city cites the state sanitary code and approaches that will make the unit habitable.

"And that constant enforcement that we do keeps these properties as maintained as possible," he said.

He said the Health Department pushes programs offered by the city as much as possible while keeping the balance of code enforcement and reminding owners that the property will get worse if it regular maintenance needs continue to be neglected.

Elliott asked Cambi to provide the board with the communication sent to owners to see if there is an opportunity to strengthen it, offering to continue the discussion at the next meeting.

"I do like the idea of trying to do something before we get to the point where we're condemning it," she said.

Cambi said there is definitely room for some outreach services, whether it is a flier outlining programs through the Department of Community Development, the bank, or other entities.

In other news, the city received a $5,000 stipend through the state Department of Public Health for a gambling disorder screening day.

This will be used for screenings that will then identify individuals who can be referred to further resources. The Health Department will not be treating the disorders.

"We've seen an increase with the mobile online gambling that is available, with the closeness to the fairly new casino in Springfield," Cambi explained. "So that has an impact on everybody as far as housing insecurity, food insecurity so I think it's a good activity for the social worker to work on."

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