117 Woonsocket properties headed to tax sale

117 Woonsocket properties headed to tax sale

WOONSOCKET – One week before the city plans to auction off a lien on their properties, the owners of 117 Woonsocket lots have yet to pay their tax bill, at least according to records from the tax assessor's department.

A tax sale is scheduled to be held Thursday, Oct. 19, starting at 10 a.m. at City Hall. The sales, typically held once every two years, are considered a revenue generator for the city and a chance to recoup money due that has not come in on real estate taxes, and water and sewer fees. Investors who buy the liens collect interest over the course of one year, at which time they have the opportunity to foreclose on the property if the bills have still not been paid.

City Treasurer Kerry Vasaturo said she could not say whether the upcoming event has more or fewer properties listed for auction than years past.

A tax sale that was said to be record-breaking at the time in 2013 brought in more than $200,000 on 123 lots, funds used to balance city finances.

But opponents of the process say the events draw in "shark investors" with little interest in moving the city forward. In a letter to The Breeze in 2015, then City Councilor Garrett Mancieri noted "they are not a nice young family buying their first home or a local investor looking to improve our neighborhoods."

On the list for the upcoming sale is one property on Reservoir Avenue, where the owners say their hardship began following a public works project gone wrong in 2004. Family members say they are facing more than $100,000 in repairs after an update to the drainage system beside their home caused flooding. They have questioned why they should pay the bills to a city they say has done little to remedy the situation, and have been unsuccessful at working out an arrangement with the tax assessor's office.

"The city has no intention of working with us," said Derek Laferriere, the son of property owner Doreen Laferriere, about the upcoming sale. Derek pointed to some recent cleanup work done near the drain beside the property.

"They're trying to clean up the mess they left behind and neglected, so it looks nice for the auction," he said.

Public Works Director Stephen D'Agostino has said the city has tried to help the family, but he believes the flooding is a natural occurrence.

Also listed for lien sale are 20 properties under the name Shawn Houle located on Milton Street, Weeks Avenue, and St. Nicholas Street. Houle is the wife of City Councilor James Cournoyer, who has disputed the accuracy of bills showing some $170,689 is owed.

The chain of title cards for all of the properties show that Houle acquired liens on the lots at a previous tax sale, a process that would not make her the owner of record, unless she took further steps to foreclose on the lots. The entry in the book of deeds on the properties does not show that Houle filed for ownership, giving an indication that the tax liability would still fall to the previous owner of record. The last people listed as owners of the properties are Katherine Ryan and Dennis McKenna. Houle bought the liens at tax sales in 1992 and 1993.

City officials did not respond to repeated requests for comment on if Houle's name correctly appears on the list.

Also listed are three Allen Street properties owned by RJK Realty Corp, and three on North Main Street owned by North Main Realty LLC, according to an updated list provided this week by the tax assessor's office. Eight properties on Irving Avenue owned by Bernon Heights Development Corp are also on the list and tax records show that in 2016, each were assessed at around $10,000.

Legally, the city is required to publish a list of the properties up for sale 30 days in advance, giving taxpayers a final chance to make good on the bills, or possibly work out a deal. More than 130 properties appeared on the original list, published in September, and Vasaturo noted that many residents had since paid.

Lien holders who purchase the burdens next week can petition Superior Court to begin sale of the property after a year has passed.

Residents hit with a high-interest lien who are unable to pay the bill should find a HUD-approved Housing Counseling Agency by calling the National hotline number at 1-888-995-4673.