Council Votes to Approve Using Land Takings for Potential Affordable Housing

Land the City takes for nonpayment of property taxes could soon be used to bolster Chelsea’s affordable housing stock.

At Monday night’s meeting, the City Council narrowly passed an order calling for a home rule petition that would give the Council the option to hand those properties over to the City’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund Board. 

The measure now needs to be approved in the state legislature.

Currently, the City is required to offer up any properties taken for the nonpayment of taxes at auction to the highest bidder. The Council would maintain that option, even if the home rule petition passes.

“The city very rarely takes property for the nonpayment of taxes,” said City Manager Tom Ambrosino. He said the City will usually bend over backwards with a property owner to settle the tax issues.

But, Ambrosino said, there are instances when the owner walks away from a property, or the City has to step in.

“On the rare occasions when we do have to take ownership by tax title … the only way to get the property back on the tax rolls is through a public auction,” said the City Manager. “Affordable housing (developers) are almost always outbid by for-profit developers.”

This move would give the City Council discretion to auction property to the highest bidder, or give it to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund Board, which could dispense of the property for affordable housing development.

Several councillors opposed the order, stating that the move would either limit income to the City, or further erode the Council’s powers.

“The City Manager states that it is rare that this happens, but it does happen,” said District 1 Councillor Robert Bishop, adding that there were several properties that went to auction a few years ago and brought in top dollar.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with going to the highest bidder,” said Bishop.

District 3 Councillor Joe Perlatonda said his concerns stemmed from more power away from the City Council, noting that recent city charter changes took away parking, traffic, and licensing duties from the Council.

“This is a tough situation, but I have to vote ‘no,’” said Perlatonda.

But Councillor-At-Large Leo Robinson said the order does not diminish Council power.

“All this does is give us another tool we can use and an opportunity to control the property,” said Robinson.

Ambrosino agreed with Robinson’s assessment.

“This will create more power through the special legislation than you currently have,” he said. “Right now, the City Council has zero say and there is a public auction to the highest bidder.” Councillors Enio Lopez and Giovanni Recupero joined Bishop and Perlatonda in voting against the order.

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