By filing five items on the Tuesday, March 29, City Council meeting agenda, District 3 Councilor George J. Russell hopes to tackle what he sees as a major problem: absentee landlords.
“It makes you think to yourself that the city is doing so much combating crime and other issues, and then you hear from the police at a crime watch meeting that some of these issues stem back to absentee landlord properties,” Russell said.
Russell said he recently attended a neighborhood watch meeting at Broad Meadow Brook Conservation Center and Wildlife Sanctuary where he first heard from a Worcester Police captain of a possible correlation between absentee owners and crime.
“The underlying issue is, looking back at the shooting a few days ago, and you think about what would be the one thing that would help overall, and the only thing that keeps coming to mind is having as many owner-occupants as you can,” Russell said. “When people live in the units that they own, they’re there all the time and it makes a big difference.”
Russell is a Realtor and owner of George Russell Realty.
TD Bank executive and 2015 at-large council candidate Matthew E. Wally, whose responsibilities include managing the bank’s performance related to mortgages, small business loans and urban investment, said: “I think the city needs to look closely at the number of absentee, irresponsible landlords.”
“When you say absentee landlords, what that signals is someone who isn’t easily accessible and isn’t taking care of the property. I don’t know if there’s a correlation [between] absentee landlords and crime, but my assumption is that there is,” Wally said.
Councilor at-large Morris A. Bergman said that although there hasn’t been a study done on the correlation between crime and absentee landlords, historically the areas of the city with the highest crime rates are the ones with the lowest percentage of owner-occupied properties.
“It’s a big problem in Worcester,” Wally said. “You have people buying properties and not putting the capital into it. That de-incentivizes individuals that are law abiding citizens and want to live in a property that is well maintained.”
According to a 2013 report from The Worcester Regional Research Bureau, 46.6 percent of the total number of housing units in Worcester are owner-occupied. Fifty-three percent are renter-occupied.
That same report states that “24.2% [19,046] of the housing units in Worcester are part of a three- or four-unit structure, a result of the prominence of the ‘triple-decker’ style house in the City.”
Russell has requested a report from City Manager Edward M. Augustus Jr. on the number of owner-occupied three-deckers compared to the number of three-deckers with absentee landlords, and a report on crime statistics and their relationship to absentee property ownership.
Additionally, Russell has asked Augustus to consider a program that would encourage public-safety employees and other municipal workers to purchase and occupy multi-family homes in Worcester.
“We have two recent police classes, a new fire class, and when you have all these young people looking to start their lives and purchase a home, why not give them an incentive to purchase a home in Worcester?” Russell said.
“When you have a street or a block with a number of absentee landlords, what you see is a decrease in the amount of private capital invested in that neighborhood. No one is going to want to spend their hard-earned money in an area filled with absentee landlords,” Wally said.
Russell lists down-payment assistance as a possible incentive for municipal employees to purchase a home in Worcester.
“The incentive would likely have to be financial,” Bergman said. “I’m not sure what else we can do to stay competitive with other cities and towns. Property values in Worcester are lower than in other communities, but at the same time, if we want to compete with other cities and towns, we have to offer some kind of financial incentive for people to remain in the city.”