Task force takes aim at Blue Hill Ave. three-decker

By 
Callum Borchers, Special to the Reporter
Jul. 7, 2011

The three-family house at 102 Blue Hill Ave. features bay windows, a small porch and is, in the estimation of the Assessor’s Office, in good exterior and interior condition. But despite its comely appearance, the Roxbury three-decker is one of the city’s most problematic properties, according to the mayor’s office. Since May 2010, it has been the site of 105 service calls, 31 for serious crimes including assault and battery with a weapon, drug distribution and prostitution.

On Tuesday afternoon—hours after Boston Police arrested and charged two tenants, Thomas and Angela Ganzales, both 47, with possession with intent to distribute a Class B substance—Mayor Thomas Menino used 102 Blue Hill as a platform to promote a proposed ordinance that would empower the city to charge negligent landlords for the costs of securing their properties. The mayor spoke surrounded by members of the newly formed Problem Properties Task Force and flanked by a light-up sign that displayed the phone number of his 24-hour constituent service hotline.

Similar signs will mark other problem properties, if the City Council approves the ordinance next week. Buildings identified as problem properties also would be subject to round-the-clock police details. The bills for all city actions to alleviate criminal activity would be charged to landlords, who would be required to outline mitigation strategies for their properties and meet with district police captains.

“Today we are saying to the public, ‘We are going to rid our neighborhoods of these properties,’” Menino said, “‘that we don’t need these properties to infringe on the peace and tranquility of other folks who live here.’”

The task force designates problem properties via a blend of empirical and subjective information. It evaluates sites of at least eight serious crime calls in a 12-month period, considering such factors as landlord indifference, building conditions and inspectional services violations.

In addition, the Menino Administration hopes to expand the legal definition of a “public nuisance” to include properties where police have responded to at least four serious crimes in the last year. Owners of these buildings would be subject to $300 fines.

Menino formed the task force by executive order following the May 7 fatal shooting of 19-year-old Derek Matulina on a platform of the Savin Hill MBTA station. Early media reports claimed the shooter, or witnesses, bolted to a three-story house at 47-49 Savin Hill Ave., a building notorious in its neighborhood as a criminal haven.

Though police now doubt the house’s reported role, the shooting called attention to the potential danger of problem properties.

A hearing before the City Council’s Committee on Government Operations, chaired by Councillor Maureen Feeney, was scheduled for Wednesday at 1 p.m. Based on Reporter interviews with local landlords and members of real estate groups, one point of debate was to be current laws that make it difficult to evict troublesome tenants.

Menino addressed eviction briefly on Tuesday, saying landlords could seek the help of the Boston Housing Authority in cases where tenants participate in the BHA’s Housing Choice Voucher Program.
But the mayor stressed his position that landlords are responsible for quashing illegal activity on their properties.

“They should know what’s going on, on their properties,” Menino said. “That’s property management. You know, you get reports back of prostitution that’s going on here [at 102 Blue Hill], as a responsible landlord, you know what’s going on, on your property.”

Robert Lynch, 43, who has lived all his life two houses away from 102 Blue Hill, expressed the same sentiment. He credited the property’s owner, Franco Edward, with renovating a building that was long abandoned, but said the landlord seldom visits the property today.

“It is a problem,” Lynch said. “If you own the property, you should know what goes on in the property. You should be managing it or have someone manage it so that if people are just hanging out, loitering, trespassing—I mean, I had to lock my gate because people just walk in and hang out in the back yard. People have broken into my car.”

Edward, who owns 16 properties in the city, could not be reached for comment. A woman at the address listed on city property records said Edward does not live there; the mayor’s office said it was trying to determine an accurate address for Edward.

Police Commissioner Edward Davis said members of the department’s narcotics team had purchased crack cocaine from the second-floor unit occupied by the Ganzaleses over a three-day period leading up to Tuesday’s arrests. He lauded the officers who have responded over and over to calls at the property and voiced his endorsement of the proposed ordinance.

“I want to note that the new ordinance that the mayor’s office has presented on this issue of problem properties is going to be extremely helpful to us in holding landlords accountable for the type of disorder you see here today,” Davis said.

The City Council is expected to vote on the ordinance July 13.