A street at war: Part 1, before the City’s task force

February 1, 2013 | Boston, Cities, Ecosystem, Foreclosure, Hendry Street, Homeownership, Housing, informality, Neighborhood, Rental, Subprime

By:David A. Smith

 

For years, if not decades, a siege war has been fought on Hendry Street in the Dorchester section of Boston.  Like most wars, this one is dominated by boredom punctuated by brief intervals of sheer terror, but unlike most wars, this one is was largely unreported until an enterprising team of reporters published a series of article, including one, from the Boston Globe (December 18, 2012).

 

The theatre of war: Hendry Street

 

At its core, journalism is about reportage – showing what happens and how it happens, and the Globe reporters (Andrew Ryan, Meghan E. Irons, Akilah Johnson, Maria Cramer, and Jenna Russell) did a great job of assembling and presenting the information, including an interactive timeline of Hendry Street (blue font) with a series of graphics that I’ve downloaded.

 

The war is about control – who will be the power on Hendry Street – and it was fought, in a series of campaigns, between the City of Boston and the anonymous drug dealers who controlled 37 Hendry Street.

 

The enemy citadel: the house at 37 Hendry Street

 

In between, the civilian casualties in this war, are the law-abiding residents who have tried to set up homes on Hendry Street.  Neighborhoods are ecosystems, and this ecosystem has been a battlefield for years.

 

Hendry Street’s history is a parable of the difficulty of rooting out crime. In 2008, it was a lawless place. Almost half the houses — 10 of 20 apartment buildings — had been foreclosed on at least once.  Many were abandoned, boarded up, and used as stash houses for drug gangs, brazen in their ruthlessness and power.

 

Triple-decker boarded up and defaced, Hendry Street

 

Drugs were sold in the open. Other residents on the block lived in fear. During a melee one night a young man raised his fists toward a cop and taunted: “Take off your badge, b****.” For at least a quarter-century, it had one of the highest concentrations of summertime violence anywhere in Boston.

 

In recent years, Dorchester has supplanted Roxbury as the City of Boston’s toughest neighborhood.  Its easy access to highways (I-93, the Southeast Expressway) makes it a good drug transshipment point, with the big markets of Brockton and New Bedford 45 minutes away, and plenty of distribution options throughout Boston.  The convenient warren of short or dead-end streets makes it a good place to hide in.  Couple these locational advantages with a multi-decade history of poverty and under-investment in place – Roxbury and Dorchester declined precipitously in the 1960s and 1970s and never came back – and the neighborhood gradually went informal.  As it did, the informality bred drug dealing as a source of income and employment, and the best way to tell the story is chronologically, from the Globe’s timeline, with explanation interspersed:

 

March 24, 2003, Spate of shootings

A person is shot on Hendry Street in March 2003. Two people are shot there in July 2004. In 2005, six people are shot in a six month span.

 

April 8, 2005, Miraglia family sells 37 Hendry St.

Miraglia family sells the triple decker in April 2005 for $499,000 to Leonard Habiyakare Jr., a parking lot attendant. To pay mortgage, Habiyakare depends on rent from tenants.

 

Leonard Hibayakare’s 2005 driver’s license

 

It may seem remarkable that a parking lot attendant could afford to buy a six-apartment triple-decker, based on expected rental income, but this was the height of the housing boom.  While the Globe authors don’t mention the source, this must have been a subprime or similar loan – or perhaps it was a Nehemiah loan with 97% financing.  Everybody thought residential property was a ticket to wealth and success.

 

While there’s nothing in the record to suggest this, it’s also possible that Mr. Habiyakare was merely a front for drug dealers, who provided him with the down payment, since nominee buyers can provide an illicit operation with a convenient public facade.

 

 

December 19, 2005 — November 21, 2011, Foreclosures

There are 14 foreclosures along Hendry Street over a six-year period. Some are condominiums at the same address.

 

The housing market peaked in December, 2005, and when a market peaks, the last to rise are the first to fall.  Like Hendry Street.

 

August 23, 2006, Landlord afraid to board up building

A property owner requests a police escort to board up 21 Hendry St., which had been repeatedly burglarized. Two men who allegedly threaten police are arrested.

 

As I’ve written before, empty houses are natural magnets for crime.  37 Hendry Street was the centerpiece of a drug-dealing value chain.

 

 

Looking down Hendry Street to the criminal fortress of 37 Hendry

 

July 22, 2007 — November 2007, Two people shot on Hendry St in 2007

Police records show one person is shot in July and another is shot in November.

 

Meanwhile, the neighborhood was sinking rapidly, as people who should not have been owners were unable to pay their loans, including Mr. Habiyakare:

 

When it comes to property owners around Hendry St in Dorchester, Leonard Habiyakare, Jr. is an exception. While some have sold out over the past few years, and others succumbed to foreclosure, Habiyakare has been struggling to keep his three-family house, which is at the end of the street. With help from ACORN, he managed to get his mortgage modified, but he still has trouble finding tenants.  “It is very—I have to say—very strange,” he said in a recent interview on Neighborhood Network News, “because you walk down the street, and there’s no neighbors. Actually, I only have two neighbors—like down the street. I have two houses next to me, and the others all have plywood.”

Foreclosures occurred all up and down the street, and it became a no-go zone.

 

Boarded up triple-deckers, Hendry Street, 2008

 

September 18, 2007, Midnight drug sales in a dead end street

Police surveillance watches armed man conducting drug sales out of 37 Hendry St.

 

Just recently I posted about the City of Boston’s Problem Properties Task Force, and the questionable legality of charging a landlord for the cost of parking a police cruiser nearby.  In that post, I commented that if the City had evidence of drug dealing on the landlord’s property, it had actions it could take. 

 

Then, in February 2008, the city embarked on an unprecedented experiment: It bought or seized a row of three-deckers, taking over a 150-foot stretch of the street, and turned them over to a developer for renovation. A nonprofit, Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corp., overhauled four additional buildings. It offered subsidies to buyers who agreed to live there.

 

Owner occupancy became the new Hendry Street credo.

 

You see, when a whole street becomes nothing but absentee landlords, then the very real possibility exists that nobody actually lives there; everybody just uses the apartments as a convenient place to transact business out of sight.

 

A Hendry Street triple decker in 2008 (top) and 2012 (bottom)

Note the boarded windows in 2008, the post-renovation streetscape and windows in 2012.

 

February 14, 2008, Hendry St. rescue plan underway

Dozens of city employees and contractors flood Hendry Street for a concentrated burst of cleaning. Workers install new street signs, remove old cars, blast paint from buildings, and sweep trash from the street. Just as Mayor Thomas M. Menino prepares to address a press gaggle, workers attach a sign to the building behind him announcing “The Hendry Street Project.”

 

A new sheriff in town?  Mayor Menino on Hendry Street, 2008

 

March 17, 2008 — August 15, 2008, Owner of 37 Hendry St. gets help

After falling behind on his loan, Leonard Habiyakare Jr. seeks foreclosure prevention counseling and is able to modify his mortgage. Habiyakare also asks the city for an emergency loan to make repairs. A city employee suggests in an email on May 19 that Habiyakare is financially in over his head. The city ultimately gives him a $9,800 no-interest loan that requires Habiyakare to live at the property.

 

More and more, it sounds as though Mr. Hibayakare was a well-meaning individual who had no idea the challenges that awaited him.  To his credit, he sought to maintain his ownership, though it’s apparent he had no financial resources of his own to contribute.

 

Map of a dying neighborhood: Hendry Street, 2008

 

August 21, 2008, Several shot

A male and a female, and possibly a third person, are shot on Hendry Street in Dorchester, police say.

 

As the city sought to re-establish control over the street, the invisible enemy fought to maintain its alternate power structure:

 

September 6, 2008, Police arrest 6 in melee

Hoodlums challenge police to fist fights after party turns violent.

 

The Mayor’s Foreclosure Intervention Team talking about intervening, 27 Feb 2008

 

In many cases the fight was brazen; sometimes it was stealthy.

 

November 7, 2008, During revitalization, thieves steal workmen’s tools

Contractors have equipment stolen during the city-led renovation efforts on Hendry Street.

 

Nevertheless, the city declared victory, seeking to cash in its political capital.  Yet this haste to claim victory is a public-choice weakness of elected governments, for they always trumpet the high-water mark as proof of a sea change, rather than just an ebb and flow.

 

Mayor Menino on a porch on Hendry Street

 

January 13, 2009, Mayor Menino highlights Hendry Street in State of the City Address

We purchased 12 foreclosed units in the Hendry Street neighborhood – one of our hardest hit areas. A year ago, in this 4-block area in Dorchester, there were 16 foreclosed and abandoned properties. Today, there are three … I will stick up for Boston’s neighborhoods. I will fight to protect all that we have achieved.”

 

So the next move was to involve a Mission Entrepreneurial Entity as redeveloper.

 

February 2, 2009, City sells buildings

21 Hendry St. and 19 Hendry St. are each bought by a developer for $87,050.

 

The prices had fallen by a factor of 6 to 10, clearing the curse of too much value.

 

New owner agrees to create affordable housing.

 

Another Hendry Street six-flat, in 2008 (above) and 2012 (below)

Note the 2008 car, which is a bit stylish for this neighborhood, and hence may be someone’s talisman of presence

 

May 11, 2009, Mayor Menino cuts ribbon on renovated home

“Mayor Thomas M. Menino today joined the City’s Foreclosure Intervention Team (FIT) for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 15 and 17 Hendry Street, the first two of four formerly foreclosed three-decker homes that were acquired by the City of Boston last year from banks and then sold to a local developer, Bilt-Rite Construction, for redevelopment.”

 

All better now? The May, 2009 ribbon-cutting

 

December 18, 2009 — January 4, 2010, After renovations, new homes on Hendry Street

19 Hendry St. and 21 Hendry St. are purchased by buyers who agree to live in the buildings.

 

Would all this investment enable Hendry Street finally to change?

 

[Concluded tomorrow in Part 2.]

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