Safe Housing Task Force “ups the ante” against city’s illegal rooming houses

Goal to increase quality of life citywide

 

By Aaron Keebaugh

 

After months of discussions and preparation since taking office, Mayor Dan Rizzo announced the creation last week of the Safe Housing Task Force—composed of officials from Revere’s departments of public works, police, health, building, and fire—to share data and streamline their communication.

“I am happy to see that we have multiple departments collaborating on this very important issue to increase our residents’ quality of life in all our neighborhoods. It is the goal of my administration to increase communication between different arms of city government in order to boost overall government effectiveness. Homeowners and landlords need to be made aware of the regulations and ordinances that are in place governing housing occupancy throughout the city,” said Mayor Rizzo in a press release.

Illegal apartments and rooming units create fire traps and health hazards for residents, who often have no idea that the rooms they rent pose such dangers, Board of Health Director Nick Catinazzo said in a telephone call this week.

And illegal units, a result of an increase in city population, continue to cause headaches for public safety and building inspection officials.

Health and fire inspectors deal with illegal units case by case. And inspectors only discover such units after receiving tips from residents or when public safety officials are called to address safety issues.

Illegal rooming units are even more difficult to locate than illegal apartment units because the property owners can mislead inspectors by saying that they are housing a family member, Catinazzo said.

But once a unit has been discovered, through a referral from police or fire department officials, Inspectional Services sends a letter to the property owner informing them of the violations. Fines are issued. And if the illegal units are not brought up to code in a timely manner, safety inspectors can file a criminal complaint against the owner of the property, explained Catinazzo.

Catinazzo went on to say that ninety percent of the landlords who operate illegal units know they are doing it.

One recent high-profile case of illegal apartments involved Rep. Steve “Stat” Smith, who, the city discovered, owned 24 apartments units in two buildings on Yeamans St. that were only zoned for a total of 12. That offense and a host of safety violations there (no carbon monoxide detectors or proper fire alarm system) are one of the worst cases in recent memory, city officials said. Rep. Smith is still working with city officials to bring the buildings up to code.

But officials said this week that the new Housing Task Force will make the process easier. Referrals and information about safety violations on illegal units will be sent to inspectional services, where the data will be collected and placed into a computer. The mayor and members of the police and fire departments can then keep track of the status of illegal units online, said Catinazzo.

Once the system is in place, the mayor plans to hold monthly informational meetings with Catinazzo, Fire Chief Eugene Doherty, Police Chief Joseph Cafarelli, and Building Inspector Benjamin DeChristoforo.

“Sometimes one agency goes one way and we would go another… [The Task Force] will help put everyone on the same page,” said Catinazzo.

Fire Chief Doherty opined, “I think it will be good overall for the city,” adding that citizens will benefit from a clear and centralized information process. “The system we had before was not a good check-and-balance-system,” the chief said. The Task Force will make sure that each department is doing all it can to improve the quality of life for residents in the city, he added.

When asked if the new process will enable the different city agencies to deal with illegal units in a faster time frame (the process can sometimes take several months, Catinazzo said), Doherty responded, “I’m hoping so.”

Residents who suspect an illegal unit in their neighborhood are urged to contact inspectional services: safe_housing@revere.org or call 781-286-8176.