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By Colin A. Young

BOSTON, OCT. 2, 2019.....Five towns central Massachusetts towns hit hard by foreclosures after the 2008 recession stand to benefit from a multi-agency program that aims to rehab blighted properties, incorporating energy efficiency measures, and to sell the newly-efficient homes to low- and moderate-income families.

The Department of Housing and Community Development is running a $7.5 million, five-year pilot program to work with non-profit community development corporation NewVue to acquire more than 40 abandoned homes along the Rte. 2 corridor in Athol, Clinton, Fitchburg, Gardner and Leominster.

An energy efficiency consultant will recommend steps that can be taken during the rehab to make the homes more efficient and the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center will help to defray the cost of some of the upgrades.

"These are really abandoned homes that are a blight, economically, on these communities and these communities are very interested in seeing redevelopment of them," Beverly Craig, the senior project manager for MassCEC's low- and moderate-income programs, said of the Liabilities to Assets Program.

Once a home is rehabbed, NewVue will sell the property to a buyer who earns less than 110 percent of the area's median income. The updated homes will feature better insulation, optimized heating and hot water, new and efficient windows and doors, and lower monthly utility bills.

The lower monthly costs will help reduce the risk of mortgage default, Craig said.

The MassCEC Board of Directors on Wednesday approved an outlay of $500,000 towards the program, which Craig said is expected to be spent on about 21 homes over the next three years.

"This is the perfect testing theory to see what we can do to take the opportunity of rehab that's needed," Craig said. "So if you have to replace the roof, shouldn't you put in great R-value at that time? If you're going to replace the siding, shouldn't you put in continuous exterior insulation at that time? If you're replacing the heating system, shouldn't you look at electrification?"

She said the goal is "basically trying to get a recipe for a whole bunch of different permutations of different rehab needs and what we would like to see ideally." Craig said MassCEC would put a lot of money into the first six or so projects it works on, and then taper off its financial support once contractors and development companies are more used to making efficiency measures part of their work.

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Kathleen Theoharides praised the program and MassCEC's involvement with it as a model for how state agencies can address multiple issues at once, like reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the building sector and assisting low- and moderate-income residents and ratepayers.

"This is something that really hits the sweet spot in terms of our priorities," Theoharides said at Wednesday's MassCEC board meeting.


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