Battling Blight: New Bedford restoring historic homes for lower income buyers

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NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) โ€” Blighted properties aren’t just eyesores. They pose safety risks, health hazards, and decrease surrounding property values.

But New Bedford has initiated a program that is both trying to rehabilitate and fill vacant homes and preserve the rich history that some of those properties have to offer. 

At first glance, 318 Pleasant St. is the kind of blighted property that’s become all-too-common in cities across the country: forgotten, boarded-up, and left to rot.  

That’s how it stood until neighbors rallied together to try and promote the property’s potential. They went door to door and collected signatures for a petition to save the house built around 1855.

That petition got the attention of the Waterfront Historical Area League (WHALE) and its executive director, Teri Bernert. WHALE acquires properties through the Department of Planning, Housing & Community Development’s receivership program and brings them back to life.

“In these low to moderate income neighborhoods, people care about their neighborhood,” said Bernert.  “They care about the beauty, and history and story behind the houses.” 

After WHALE restores a home, it’s sold to low- and moderate-income buyers who’ve gone through the city’s first-time homebuyer seminars.

WHALE’s first finished project is just a few streets away from Pleasant St. on Allen St. It’s a newly renovated two-family home originally built in 1845, that was just purchased by the Walker family.

“We never imagined we could afford to buy a house, in a million years,” Samia Walker said.

Samia’s husband, Peter Walker, is the first in his family to ever own a home.

“I’ve always talked about us getting a home. It’s easier said than done and programs like this can provide for people who never had that opportunity,” Peter said.

New Bedford works with several nonprofit developers to rehabilitate vacant properties and has established a lottery system for the finished homes since they’re in such high demand.

According to the Department of Planning, Housing & Community Development, the city currently has about 122 vacant properties, down from about 200 during the height of the foreclosure crisis.  They’ve rehabilitated 43 properties over the past five years, and they’re working on 10 additional properties right now. 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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