Norwich program aims to keep foreclosed buildings occupied

Norwich - City officials say it so often that it's become a cliché: "We don't want to be in the real estate business."

But with the reality of tax foreclosures on houses and apartment buildings, Norwich officials have a unique plan to try to keep the buildings in good condition and put them back on the tax rolls quickly. The city advertised this week for a property manager and/or real estate broker "to maintain and market various properties acquired by the city, primarily through tax foreclosures."

"We foreclose on some of these properties, and some of these properties might be occupied," City Manager Alan Bergren said. "The city is not geared for dealing with occupied properties and tenants. We don't really want to thrust this on one agency. We need some type of entity who is able to manage the properties."

The property manager would collect rents and maintain the apartment houses and either the same person or a separate broker would market the houses for sale.

"We're trying to find a way to sell the foreclosed properties with tenants in place without having to evict them," said Alderwoman Sofee Noblick, who worked on the program. "We're looking for a property manager to take care of the places, collect rents and to find buyers."

The city recently acquired two houses on School Street with tenants living in them, and more could be coming, city officials said. Eviction takes time, costs money and disrupts families, Noblick said, and auctions often bring in little money to the city.

Proposals are due to be submitted to the city purchasing agency by 3 p.m. Nov. 20 and will be opened publicly in Room 319 at City Hall. Qualifying proposals will be submitted to a review committee with Purchasing Agent William Block, Tax Collector Cathy Daley and Public Works Director Barry Ellison to conduct interviews.

Bergren said the rents charged while the city owns the apartments would be enough to cover the property management expenses, not to have the city make a profit.

"The whole key is we want to get the properties back in productive use and to get a responsible landlord in control of the property, and not kick people out," he said. "Certainly we don't want people in the streets."

Bergren serves on the board of directors of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and said he has not heard of any similar programs run by other cities in Connecticut. But he would not be surprised if the idea catches on as cities continue to struggle with tax foreclosures.

Norwich Human Services Director Beverly Goulet supports the program. The Human Services office gets involved helping relocate tenants when the city condemns a building owned by a private landlord, but hasn't been involved in city tax foreclosures on occupied apartment buildings.

She said the city program is a good idea to avoid evictions and get the properties back on the tax rolls, but she cautioned that some tenants might not be able to pay rents if they have been laid off or are working low-paying jobs. The program would be subject to the same economic pressures landlords face.


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