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Building benefits from state funding

Date: 4/6/2010

April 7, 2010.

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD -- The apartment building at 30 Belmont Ave. had its share of problems from being abandoned by its owner to having necessary repairs ignored to being a center for illegal activities.

Thanks, though, to the work performed by a Western Division Housing Court-appointed receiver and financial resources made available through HAPHousing, the building has made a significant recovery.

Mayor Domenic Sarno joined with local and state housing officials to note the progress made so far at the building at a press conference on March 30.

The building is the first in the city to receive rehabilitation funds through the Neighborhood Stabilization Loan Fund (NSLF). The loan of $362,500 helped receiver Craig Spagnoli finance repairs to the 48-unit complex, install a security system, start lead paint abatement and reestablish on-site management.

HAPHousing has a $600,000 revolving loan fund for the stabilization of foreclosed and distressed properties through the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation.

Peter Gagliardi, executive director of HAPHousing, said there is a major difference now in the way the city has reacted to the current housing problems than to the problems during the last recession in the late 1990s. He said today the reaction is "aggressive" in seeking to use state and federal resources to identify buildings such as this one and return to them to the housing inventory.

Sarno said 30 Belmont Ave. is an example of what a public-private collaboration can do. He added he would seek additional funds to help restore housing.

He also credited Spagnoli with improving the quality of life in the area with his renovation of the building.

"A lot of trouble has gone away," Sarno said.

Spagnoli said, "Our focus was to clean it up ... We worked hard to make people think this is their home."

The result, so far is that 40 of the 48 units in the complex are now occupied. When Spagnoli took over the building there were only 26 apartments rented.

Spagnoli instituted an application process for new tenants that included a Criminal Offender Recorder Information check. Although Spagnoli has made significant physical and safety improvements, he said there is more to be done.

As the court-appointed receiver, he was given 18 months to restore the building.

"You have to quickly figure out what is going on," he said.

Spagnoli owns a building in Springfield, but this is his first assignment as a receiver.

At the end of the 18 months, the building will be sold to a new owner through an auction, he explained.

Gagliardi said the concept behind the program appears simple: the Housing Court appoints a receiver who repairs the building with loans through the Massachusetts Housing Partnership (MHP), which co-created the NSLF with the Massachusetts Housing Investment Corporation.

"In practice the details were fairly difficult to wade through," Gagliardi said.

Clark Zeigler, executive director of the MHP, said, "What you're doing in Springfield is setting the standard for the state as a whole."