Buy Fall River Now

City of Fall River hosts Landlord Training Seminar

Fall River, Massachusetts – Members of the Southeast Housing Court and Mayor Will Flanagan hosted a Landlord Training Seminar on Thursday, aimed at providing valuable information to the public regarding landlord-tenant law.

Joined by nearly 75 landlords as well as other elected and community leaders, Flanagan said, “this forum is important because it not only provides residents with an opportunity to hear from the judiciary, but more importantly for those who work in the Southeast Housing Court to hear directly from landlords throughout our community.”

The Seminar which lasted just over two hours was titled, “the Anatomy of an Eviction,” and featured discussions which described the Commencement of Landlord/Tenant Relationships, Tenancies Gone Bad, Hearing Day Procedures and the Trial Process.

Michael Dion, Executive Director of the Community Development Agency, whose Office is responsible for the administration of the US Department of Housing Urban Development (HUD) Community Planning and Development Programs assisted in the planning of this seminar, and has worked with landlords over the years to provide the resources and services available to landlords through the Agency.

“Working to improve our neighborhoods has always been a large part of what we at the Community Development Agency do,” stated Dion. “Ensuring that landlords have an understanding of the process and can make informed decisions goes hand and hand with our mission at CDA. I would like to thank the Clerk Magistrate’s office as well as the Honorable First Justice Anne Kenney Chaplin, and members of my staff for organizing this important event.”

For more information on the Landlord Training Seminar or to access any of the information provided contact the Office of Neighborhood Development & Outreach at (508)-676-0324.

Fall River public schools make dramatic turnaround

By Michael Gagne
Herald News Staff Reporter

Improving the city’s schools is a process that’s far from complete. But the public school system is in a good position to continue the work, without a state-appointed monitor overlooking the process, say education officials.

Contrast that sentiment with 2009, just five years ago, when the prospect of a state takeover of the city’s public school system loomed large.

In a letter and a 91-page report from March of that year, Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester wrote to then-Mayor Robert Correia that he had been ready to declare the Fall River school district underperforming.

Data showed a large number of Fall River students under-performing and failing on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System tests. But it wasn’t just students who were failing; there were shortcomings in the system itself, too.
“I was concerned up and down the line,” said Chester, who spoke with The Herald News recently.

After reviewing the district in January 2009, state education officials found ineffectiveness in several areas, including governance by the School Committee, and that the district had been lacking in its central administrative capacity, lacking a human resources director and a chief financial officer. That ineffectiveness trickled down into the schools themselves, state officials said.

But because Correia had requested DESE review the district, Chester stopped short of recommending a takeover.
Instead, he recommended the district adopt a recovery plan and a state-appointed monitor to oversee progress made on that plan, quarterly.

Now Chester and other education officials say the district, which in 2012 moved from a recovery plan to an Accelerated Improvement Plan, no longer needs to be monitored and can continue the work of improving student performance on its own. The announcement came to the School Committee when it met last Tuesday.

From state watch list to monitoring

Before 2009, the district already had a long history of poor student performance on MCAS tests. It was on watch, from 2004 to 2007, by the state’s former Office of Educational Quality and Accountability.

By the time DESE issued its report, there were more concerns than just student performance.

“Our key concerns were around governance, and leadership in the district,” Chester said. “We were watching a School Committee that in our estimation was not focused on the right things.” He defined “the right things” as taking the actions needed to help the district improve student achievement.

Chester said he was further concerned about the committee’s conduct during that time, and what he said was its second-guessing of Superintendent Meg Mayo-Brown, who had been months into her appointment as acting superintendent. A few months later she received a full-time appointment, a title she has held since.

Chester said he was “concerned about whether the School Committee was going to give [Mayo-Brown] a chance to be successful.

“It wasn’t clear that the city was watching out for the well-being of the school district,” he said. “Our concerns were substantial and lasted several years.”

Committee vice chairman Mark Costa called 2009 “a dark time in Fall River school history.”

Former committeewoman Marilyn Roderick, who sat on the committee for a decade until 2011, said there was friction among committee members at the time. She saw the involvement of DESE in a positive light.

“They weren’t coming to Fall River to bury Fall River,” she said. “They were coming to lift Fall River.”

During the recovery process, committeeman Joseph Martins on occasion made his grievances with state education officials clear.

Martins said officials made accusations he considered to be “unfounded. Do I have to say yes to everything the superintendent wants? Is that efficiency?”

By 2013, School Committee governance was the last piece of the improvement plan that had to be finalized.

“It’s unfortunate it took as long as it did,” Costa said.

Former committeeman and former Fall River Schools Superintendent Rick Pavao said it “took some arm-twisting to make members realize we’re a policy-making board.

“And we came together because we got on the same page,” Pavao said.

Mayo-Brown said despite some initial pushback about some of the early requirements of the Recovery Plan, in particular the hiring of an executive director of HR and a chief financial officer, the committee overall “has been supportive of the recovery work.”

“Each time we’ve presented a need for a resource in order to meet the goals of the recovery plan, the School Committee has ultimately supported those resources,” Mayo-Brown said.

“It may have taken some debate, deliberations, as it should. It may have taken me coming back to them one or two times, but in the end, they have been extremely supportive of the resources that I needed in order to implement the recovery plan.”

A different school district today

Chester said he now sees a different district in Fall River, one that is more focused on student achievement.

“I think it’s been evolutionary,” Chester said of the committee’s shift in focus. “There’s not any particular moment in time. For the most part I’ve seen it withdraw micromanaging, focusing more on policy increasingly over the last couple of years.”

But presently, Chester said, “it’s a much more professional committee, more focused on what’s important. And I’ve watched the school district improve as a result. It’s a real success story.”

He added that Mayo-Brown has grown into her role as superintendent, “to becoming one of our more mature and savvy urban superintendents.”

Mayo-Brown said even without direct DESE oversight, “there’s still a lot more that needs to be done. We’re engaged in that work.

“The department simply feels that we have the structures and systems in place to support the improvement of our schools,” Mayo-Brown said. The results of the work by educators in the district had been a long time coming.

“For each of the past five years, when our results come in, it’s like, oh almost there. They haven’t quite come together yet. But we stayed the course, and we knew that eventually, it would come together,” Mayo-Brown said.

While Fall River is still in the “middle of the pack” of urban school districts in terms of students’ academic performance, Mayo-Brown said student growth the past few years has outpaced that of the state, enabling the district to gain some ground.

Mayo-Brown said she would like to see Fall River rise to the top of that group.

“As long as we keep that acceleration growing, you’ll see us aggressively climb to the top performing urban districts, because we’re outpacing the state and we’re outpacing our urban peers,” she said.

“The superintendent and the School Committee are working much more effectively as a governance team. Good things are happening; we’re very optimistic,” said DESE Deputy Commissioner Alan Ingram. “And more importantly, the students have been a beneficiary.”

Ingram said the work between committee and superintendent is far from over.

“All relationships require work,” Ingram said, and “a conscious effort to be more collaborative.”

“Fall River Public Schools is certainly a better district today than when they began the recovery plan,” Costa said. “I think we’re on sound footing to continue to make progress in the district. I think it took some time to develop. I am pretty confident that progress will continue.”

Martins last week said that while he’s “happy that the Department of Education has taken away the stigma of being watched,” he is not convinced enough progress has been made in improving student achievement to achieve a previous state-set goal for narrowing proficiency gaps.

“What I see is more of the same,” Martins said. “We have made some pretty good strides.”

Martins used an analogy of running the Boston Marathon to explain his position on the district’s progress. “The first year, you don’t quite make to Heartbreak Hill. And the next year you make it half way up the hill.

“But the goal is crossing that finish line,” Martins said.

Others seem focused on the progress that is happening.

“We just want to see continuous progress for students,” Chester said, adding that continuity in Fall River’s leadership and a consistent improvement plan “make the difference.”

Mayo-Brown said the district’s culture has become more student-centered. Social and emotional learning have become components of teaching.

Left out early in the recovery process was teacher input in schools’ decision-making, Mayo-Brown said, “because we had to make decisions quickly and demonstrate to the state that we could put ourselves on this path.

“We’ve gotten it to where it is now. But we will plateau unless teachers get very involved in shared decision-making around what needs to happen,” Mayo-Brown said.

“It’s been a journey,” Mayo-Brown said. “There were times where it’s been sort of a process.”

She said the community wants its children to succeed, as well.

“I feel that in the community, that people want Fall River children to be successful, and that doesn’t happen in every community across the state.”

Fall River offers a more affordable tax rate than other cities

Fall River offers a more affordable tax rate than many other cities in Massachusetts and there’s plenty to love for young families within the city limits, too. Surrounded by well-preserved green space, a school system that makes certain our children and families are well supported, we are maintaining a rural, family-friendly place to live, work and play.

FY 2014 TAX RATES

CITY RESIDENTIAL COMMERCIAL
Fall River  $ 12.58  $ 26.68
Taunton  $ 14.61  $ 31.19
Lowell  $ 15.14  $ 31.75
New Bedford  $ 15.16  $ 31.08
Lawrence  $ 15.61  $ 33.70
Brockton  $ 18.13  $ 33.96

 

 

Investor Rehabilitation (Frequently Asked Questions)

Can an investor (an owner who doesn’t live on the property) obtain a loan under the HOME Program?

The HOME Program offers rehabilitation and acquisition loans to investors who are willing to provide decent, affordable housing to income-qualified households at rents set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  It can be a single-family property, multi-family property or rental condo, but there are environmental reviews, federal requirements (Davis-Bacon Act, labor standards) and limits as to how much government money can be invested.

What are the qualifications to obtain an Investor Rehabilitation loan?

The participant must own the property with an approved form of ownership. Any lead paint must be abated, and the property must be brought up to code.

What are the rent and income limits?

The rent limits are the same as the Section 8 rents set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  These HUD issued rents include utilities and are based on the number of bedrooms in each unit.  There is a formula to calculate rent if the utilities are to be paid by the tenant. When investor rehabilitation is involved, if a property has 1-4 units, all tenants can be charged the High HOME rent.  If there are more than 4 units, 20% of the units are to be Low HOME rent. There are income guidelines for initial occupancy, based on household size, for the homeowner and any tenants living in HOME-assisted units. The rent and income guidelines are updated by HUD annually.

How long is the term of the loan?

The term of the loan runs concurrent with the affordability period up to 30 years, and is dependent upon the amount of HOME funds borrowed and the ability of the borrower to pay it back.

What are the interest rates?

The interest rate is 1% for all HOME loans.

What are the on-going responsibilities during the affordability period and/or the loan term?

The homeowner’s insurance is verified annually during the term of the loan. There are periodic inspections to make sure the property is kept up to code for the duration of the affordability period. If applicable, the landlord must provide our agency with tenant certification of their rents and their incomes (including proof of income) every year on the anniversary of the completion of the project for the duration of the affordability period.

Are there any pre-payment penalties?

The affordability period remains with the property until the expiration date; it cannot be discharged with the mortgage at time of sale or transfer of the property.

What types of repairs are eligible under the HOME Program?

Eligible repairs include bringing the property up to code, essential improvements, handicap renovations, and energy efficiency improvements.  Lead paint abatement is necessary.  Anything of a non-luxury nature is eligible.

Do you give out grants?

We do not grant funds as such, but some of our loans qualify to be deferred to a point of forgiveness given that the restrictions have been adhered to during the affordability period, as well as other requirements of the program.  Loan will revert to a grant.

Does a commercial building qualify?

No, not if it is strictly for commercial use.

Does a mixed-use building qualify (part residential/part-commercial)?

Yes, but any commercial portion would be pro-rated.

Example:  A 3-tenement with a store-front on 1st floor—both 2nd and 3rd floor apartments can be rehabilitated with HOME funds, but not the store on the 1st floor.  If the roof was being replaced or vinyl siding was being installed, owner would pay one-third of the cost at time of loan closing.

Can I use my own contractor?

Yes, but the contractor must be licensed for the type of work to be performed, insured, and registered with the state. We also require a bidding process—we like to have at least 2 bids, but prefer 3.  Normally the lowest responsible bidder is chosen, but if the owner selects a higher bidding contractor, the owner must pay the difference between the bids at time of loan closing.  All bids come directly to our office sealed, to be opened at a pre-determined date and time.

Is there an application fee?

Yes, an application fee is required in good faith, but it is refundable upon closing of the loan.

Who inspects the work to make sure it’s being done properly and everything is brought up to code?

We have a rehabilitation specialist in our office.  He/She performs the preliminary inspection, and writes up the in-house specifications and cost estimates.  The contractors’ bids are based on the in-house specifications.  The rehabilitation specialist also performs all inspections during the course of the project and makes certain that all work is up to code and falls within the specifications.  He/She is available to answer questions of both the contractor and the property owner.

City of Fall River announces Buy Fall River Now, a program aimed at promoting home ownership.

FALL RIVER, MASSACHUSETTS – Flanked by local stakeholders, Mayor Will Flanagan announced on Tuesday a new program aimed at strengthening the middle class and providing incentives for those who choose to purchase a home in Fall River.

Standing outside a single family home on Lawton Street, Flanagan said, “Buy Fall River Now will allow those who may be looking to purchase a home in our region to give serious consideration to Fall River, recognizing our many attributes and providing financing options that are far more affordable than anywhere else.”

The program features assistance with acquisition, down payment and closing costs, as well as mortgage payment protection for up to 6 months if they become unemployed. Participating lenders offer innovative loan products, first time homebuyer incentives, financing solution for low- and moderate-income homebuyers, special programs designed specifically for Veterans of the U.S. Armed Services, active-duty military, and spouses of soldiers, sailors or marines killed while on active duty, as well as homeowner and investor rehabilitation solutions.

“We applaud the City of Fall River for their commitment to affordable home ownership,” said MassHousing Executive Director Thomas R. Gleason.  “By increasing home ownership opportunities for low and moderate income homebuyers and providing financing for homeowners to rehabilitate their homes, we can help to revitalize neighborhoods and strengthen the community.  We are glad to be a partner in the  Buy Fall River Now initiative.”

Michael Dion, Executive Director of the Community Development Agency, whose office is responsible for the administration of the US Department of Housing Urban Development (HUD) Community Planning and Development Programs assisted in the makeup of the program, and has worked with local lenders.

Buy Fall River Now will have a direct impact on our neighborhoods and in the process provide economic opportunities for realtors, contractors, local lenders, as well as industry related local companies that work in the field,” stated Dion. “Individually, we have all done our best to promote Fall River; through the hard work and efforts of the men and women here today.  This program now affords us the opportunity to better market our programs, and provide one stop shopping for anyone looking to purchase or rehabilitate a home in Fall River.”

Combining MassHousing programs exclusive to Fall River with participating local banks and the Community Development Agency provides a platform for the 5 programs that encompass Buy Fall River Now :

“The City of Fall River has always been fortunate to have local banks that are part of our community, reinvesting in our neighborhoods, and doing great things to improve our quality of life.  Buy Fall River Now is another example of this.  BankFive, BayCoast Bank, Mechanics Cooperative Bank, Bristol County Savings Bank, St. Anne’s Credit Union and First Citizens Federal Credit Union exemplify what it means to be a community partner, and have consistently reinforced their commitment to our community, stated Flanagan. “I remain committed to enhancing existing neighborhood revitalization strategies, enticing the middle class to purchase a home in one of our many neighborhoods, and improving the quality of life for us all.”

For More Information visit http://www.buyfallrivernow.com or contact the Community Development Agency at (508)-679-0131.

 

Blueprint to buy: an at-a-glance overview of the homebuying process

Step 1: Think About What You Can Afford

  • Get a clear picture of in come and expenses
  • Obtain a copy of your credit report
  • Determine your monthly budget for mortgage payment and household expenses

Step 2: Enroll in Homebuyer Education

  • Understand the complexities of buying a home
  • Prepare yourself for the responsibilities of homeownership
  • Find a course near you at www.masshousing.com/homebuyer

Step 3: Check Eligibility for a Mass Housing Loan

  • Visit www.masshousing.com
  • Check to verify that your income and desired property cost are within MassHousing’s limits.

Step 4: Get Pre-approved

  • Contact a MassHousing approved bank or mortgage lender to be pre-approved
  • Pre-approval is a review of your qualifications for a mortgage
  • A pre-approval letter improves your chances of having an offer be accepted
  • Find a MassHousing-approved lender at www.masshousing.com/banks

Step 5: Find an Affordable Property

  • Commit to looking only at properties you know you can afford
  • Consider location (including schools, transit access and other amenities)
  • Visit open houses, search real estate listings and work with a REALTOR®

Questions on the steps? Visit www.masshousing.com for answers, or to reach out to a member of our team.

Step 6: Make an Offer

  • A REALTOR® can help you submit an offer and negotiate with the seller
  • Time to find an attorney that specializes in residential real estate
  • Be ready with a deposit, sometimes called “earnest money”

Step 7: Apply for a Mortgage Loan

  • Once your offer is accepted, work with a trust worthy lender to obtain a loan
  • Find MassHousing-approved lenders at www.masshousing.com/banks
  • Be sure you understand all of the loan’s terms
  • Key elements include interest rate(fixed or adjustable), rate locks, mortgage insurance, closing costs
  • Have your attorney review the purchase and sale agreement.

Step 8: The Home Inspection

  • Don’t skip this critical step! You need to know the condition of the home you’re buying
  • Use the inspection as an opportunity to learn about your home.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions

Step 9: The Closing Process

  • Conduct a walk-through of the property within 24 hours of closing to ensure that the property is in acceptable condition
  • Your lender, REALTOR® and attorney will schedule the loan closing
  • Be ready to sign alot of documents and bring a cashier’s check for your down payment
  • Be sure you understand what you’re signing

 Step 10: Enjoy

  • Enjoy your new home!

 

First-Time Homebuyer Program (Frequently Asked Questions)

What is the Homebuyer Program?

The Homebuyer Program is financial assistance in the form of down payment and closing cost money provided to a first-time homebuyer who is income-eligible, must be creditworthy, and does not owe any outstanding property taxes or service fees to the City of Fall River.  Rehabilitation may be included if necessary and financially feasible.

What are the qualifications to obtain a Homebuyer Assistance loan?

The participant must be a first-time homebuyer and must complete a certified homebuyer’s course. The participant must be an income-qualified household, must occupy the property as the principal residence for a period of 5 years, and must purchase the property with an approved form of ownership. The property must be a 1-4 family, manufactured or mobile home, or condominium, and it must be located in Fall River. Any lead paint must be abated. If there is rehabilitation involved, the property has to be brought up to code.

Who is a first-time homebuyer?

A first-time homebuyer is an individual and his or her spouse who has not owned a home during the three-year period prior to purchase of a home with HOME assistance.

What are the rent and income limits in HOME-assisted units?

 If the HOME funds assist units other than the homebuyer’s unit, then rent and income limits apply to all HOME-assisted units. The rent limits are the same as the Section 8 rents set by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).  These HUD issued rents include utilities and are based on the number of bedrooms in each unit.  There is a formula to calculate rent if the utilities are to be paid by the tenant. There are income guidelines, which are based on household size, for the homebuyer and any tenants living in HOME-assisted units. HUD updates the rent and income guidelines annually.

Where can I complete a Homebuyers course?

You can obtain information on the courses available in this area at Catholic Social Services (Maria Paiva @ 508-674-4681) or the Fall River Affordable Housing Corporation. (Bob Landry @ 508-677-2220).

How long is the term of the loan?

The term of the loan may run concurrent with the affordability period up to 20 years, and is dependent upon the amount of HOME funds borrowed and the ability of the borrower to pay it back.  Homebuyer loans usually have a term of 5 years

What are the interest rates?

 The interest rate is 1% for all HOME loans.

What are the on-going responsibilities during the affordability period and/or the loan term?

The homeowner’s insurance is verified annually during the term of the loan. There are periodic inspections to make sure the property is kept up to code for the duration of the affordability period. Borrower must sign a Certificate of Primary Residence annually for 5 years. If applicable, the borrower must provide our agency with certification of their tenants’ rents and incomes (including proof of income) every year on the anniversary of the completion of the project for the duration of the affordability period.

Do you give out grants?

We do not grant funds as such.  The homebuyer assistance portion of the loan is deferred for a 5-year period as long as the borrower complies with program restrictions during the affordability period.  Loan will revert to a grant. Lead paint abatement and handicap accessibility renovation loans up to $7,500.00 per unit are deferred until forgiveness as long as the borrower complies with program restrictions during the affordability period.  Loan will revert to a grant.

Are there any pre-payment penalties?

There are recapture provisions:  if a HOME-assisted property is sold within the affordability period, CDA has the right to recapture some, if not all, of the HOME assistance from the sale’s net proceeds, and may even be entitled to a portion of the proceeds.  The affordability period remains with the property until the expiration date; it cannot be discharged with the mortgage at time of sale or transfer of the property.

Is there an application fee?

No, but the homebuyer needs to work with a primary lender who is familiar with the HOME Homebuyer Assistance Program.

Can HOME funds be used to acquire commercial property?

No, not if it is strictly for commercial use.

In the case of rehabilitation, what types of repairs are eligible under the HOME Program?

Eligible repairs include bringing the property up to code, essential improvements, handicap renovations, and energy efficiency improvements.  Lead paint abatement is necessary.  Anything of a non-luxury nature is eligible.

In the case of rehabilitation, who inspects the work to make sure it’s being done properly and everything is brought up to code? 

We have a rehabilitation specialist in our office.  He/She performs the preliminary inspection, and writes up the in-house specifications and cost estimates.  The contractors’ bids are based on the in-house specifications.  The rehabilitation specialist also performs all inspections during the course of the project and makes certain that all work is up to code and falls within the specifications.  He/She is available to answer questions of both the contractor and the homeowner.

What are the FHA Mortgage Limits?

The estimated value of the property (after rehabilitation if applicable) cannot exceed 95% of the median purchase price for the area.