Attorney General Martha Coakley addressed the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce at its Good News Business Salute at the Williams Inn on Wednesday morning.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Attorney General Martha Coakley touted her new initiatives to reduce the number of abandoned properties to the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce Wednesday morning.
Coakley is using $44.5 million from a national settlement with some of the major banks to start an array of programs to reduce foreclosures. Locally, a loan specialist will be stationed in North Adams to help distressed home owners, and Pittsfield was granted $250,000 for a receivership program to rehabilitate blight.
"For so many of our cities and towns, when one house goes into foreclosure or is abandoned, immediately everybody else's property values go down. We see this broken windows effect — people don't cut their lawns, people don't repair their own homes. They're in a cycle where they are losing value, losing value," Coakley said after addressing the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce at its Good News Business Salute at the Williams Inn Wednesday morning.
Pittsfield was awarded the grant that allows the city to take over an abandoned home, renovate it and then resell it. A total of $5.8 million was awarded throughout the state for that program.
"It's a very concrete, economic way to turn around that cycle," she said.
Coakley said a loan specialist has not yet been hired for North Adams but the Pittsfield program is already running. The specialist will be focused on loan modifications that many could afford but are unable to receive either because of a lack of knowledge or problems with paperwork. The goal is to make sure the people who can afford a modification are able to do so, she said.
"We found that with each case the chances that there will be a successful loan modification go up," Coakley said. "That means that person stays in their home, we don't have a foreclosure and we don't have an abandoned property off the tax rolls."
She added, "I know the economy hits tough out here and it takes longer to recover... We wanted to have someone on the ground out here in North Adams and in Berkshire County."
The state has been slowly recovering from the housing crash in 2008. Predatory lending, job lost and the overall poor economy has caused the highest percentage of homeowners to fall behind on their mortgages ever, according to Coakley. These programs are intended to stop the "fallout" and begin to rebuild, she said.
"We have a state with a lot of old properties and there is a lot of equity in them. So there was a lot of focus on predatory lending, foreclosures and then abandoned," Coakley said. "We are still seeing the fallout from that crash."
Coakley also talked about her roles in helping businesses — particularly with rate regulation. Her office is hoping to help businesses survive in the state by keeping an eye on both energy and health care costs.
She pointed to a recent fine on Western Massachusetts Electric Company for a poor response to Tropical Storm Irene and "Snowtober," by forcing the company be prepared to handle sever weather.
"We made it so they could not sit on the money and not be prepared for bad weather," Coakley said. "Those costs can't be passed onto the consumers."
Health care costs will also be monitored because "in Berkshire County and across the state, health care is our business and our future," Coakley said, along with her day-to-day work of cutting down on fraud.
"We have been active. We have agencies around ethics and public integrity to make sure that your tax dollars are being spent where they should be and they are not being diverted in fraud, abuse or waste or corruption," Coakley said.
Coakley is a North Adams native who has been the Attorney General since 2007 prior to that she was the Middlesex County district attorney. In 2010 she ran for U.S. Senate but lost to Scott Brown.
"This part of the state has always been a particular interest of me and concern," Coakley said.
The salute was sponsored by TD Bank and recognized Berkshire Health Systems, Mildred Elly and the Girl Scouts.
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