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Youth teams clean up foreclosed properties

Sandra Larson
Sandra Larson is a Boston-based freelance journalist covering urban/social issues and policy. VIEW BIO
Youth teams clean up foreclosed properties
Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino talks with young men from the “Mayor’s Clean Team,” hired to help maintain city-owned foreclosed properties, in front of a house on Mountain Avenue in Dorchester.

Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino talks with young men from the “Mayor’s Clean Team,” hired to help maintain city-owned foreclosed properties, in front of a house on Mountain Avenue in Dorchester.

A joint effort by the City of Boston and two local youth services programs aims to help stabilize foreclosure-ridden Boston neighborhoods while providing paid work and training to local youths.

The “Mayor’s Clean Team,” launched last month, is made up of teens and young adults from the Dorchester Youth Collaborative (DYC) and Catholic Charities’ teen center at St. Peter’s Parish.

In the past few weeks, the work crews have begun cleaning up yards, driveways, fences and porches at some of the 51 foreclosed, vacant properties the city has acquired and is preparing for redevelopment and resale.  

On Oct. 26, Mayor Thomas M. Menino visited a Clean Team work site on Mountain Avenue in Dorchester. A few liquor bottles lay near the front porch of the boarded-up house, and a thick layer of leaves filled the yard and driveway. Menino chatted with the young men as they raked, joking around a bit but also stressing the importance of the program to the city and to them.

“We don’t want these homes to become a cancer on the neighborhood,” he told them, “And it’s an opportunity for you guys. Don’t pass it up.”

On this day, workers and program leaders expressed satisfaction with the new program.

“It’s been great,” said J’shaun Reddick, a 19-year-old in the GED test preparation program at DYC. He pulled out his cell phone to show his photographs of a site in Mattapan, one of six properties he’s worked on so far.

Besides the pay, Reddick appreciates that the job is cleaning up neighborhoods. “I don’t like litter,” he said.

Emmett Folgert, executive director of DYC, said some of the youth are “hard core dropouts,” out of school for several years. They must be working toward taking the GED tests in order to be eligible for the paid work. “[The Clean Team] is my favorite program right now,” he said, “It turns a GED program into a work-study opportunity.”

The city’s Foreclosure Intervention Team has worked since 2008 to acquire foreclosed properties, especially in the hardest-hit neighborhoods where vacant properties become convenient locations for drug use and other crime, and boarded-up buildings draw down local property values.

 Boston now has more than 900 foreclosed properties. The city has purchased 51 properties so far, and has helped individuals, developers and non-profit organizations to acquire 86 others, according to the Department of Neighborhood Development.

In front of the Mountain Avenue house, Menino lingered after handing out matching jackets to the work team, musing further about the cleanup program.

 “The idea behind this is, we want to give these young people hope and opportunity,” he said as he watched some teens learning to reinforce porch steps with added boards, “but they’re also helping the city.” Gesturing toward the neatly-kept single-family homes along the street, he said, “Around here you see people who pay their taxes, and they want their neighborhood to be stable.”