Last August, a woman who had lived in her 1108 Albany St. apartment for 29 years came home to find a foreclosure notice on the door.
Although she had faithfully paid her rent, her landlord hadn’t paid his taxes, and now the city was seizing the house.
The story ended in the most unlikely of ways. The upstairs tenant’s brother, a contractor, bought the house from the city. And now he’s poised to become the first contractor to finish a rehab project in the new foreclosure-rehab program.
But a year ago, Rose West didn’t have any inkling such a happy ending might be in the works. She stared at the foreclosure notice, terrified.
She said all she could think was, “Where am I going to go? What am I going to do?”
She ran her day care center out of her apartment. Her colorful sign hung outside the door. Now everything was in jeopardy.
As the year progressed, things didn’t get any easier.
She was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. She went on oxygen and closed her daycare.
City officials offered a month-to-month lease so that she could stay in the foreclosed house. She agreed to pay rent to the city, but the city didn’t take on the normal burden of property ownership.
“They wouldn’t come to do nothing,” she said. “If we complained about something, they said, you can up and move then.”
A possible gas leak frightened her into keeping her heat off at the beginning of the winter because she was afraid it might cause an explosion. When she asked for help, code enforcement posted the building as unsafe, saying she had to move out because she had no heat.
It turned out that the gas leak came from her dryer. She stopped using it, and turned on the heat at last.
“We were just afraid to turn it on,” she said. “National Grid checked it out and said it was OK.”
But no one came to fix the dryer.
Meanwhile, Charles DeBates of Saratoga was hearing the foreclosure stories from his sister, who lives upstairs. She was looking for another place to live, he said, but every apartment was either too expensive or needed major repair work.
Then he heard that the city would sell foreclosed houses to contractors if they agreed to renovate. He called at once.
So far, it’s taken 10 months for his paperwork to filter through the city’s bureaucracy. The City Council voted to sell him the house and he signed a contract to buy it. But the city hasn’t yet finished transferring the deed to him.
Still, as soon as he signed the contract, he started work. He fixed doors and walls, plumbing leaks in the basement, and finally got West a new washer and dryer.
As soon as he gets the deed, he said, he will replace the roof and install siding. An electrician will pull out all of the old wiring and redo it and a plumber will replace the old pipes. Then he’ll do the indoor work, which includes two new furnaces. The city gave him a list of required repairs, along with a deadline.
“It’s a lot. I do a lot of contracting, so it wasn’t so overwhelming to me,” he said.
The work should be done by November, he added. And although he won’t make his money back anytime soon, he said he thinks it’s a good deal.
“Eventually it’ll be a win-win,” he said. “I did it to help my sister out. But I’ve been looking to get into real estate for some time. I probably would have picked a different house, but my sister was living there, and [West]. I felt bad for their situation.”