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The New England Center for Investigative Reporting (NECIR) is a nonprofit investigative reporting newsroom based at Boston University and at the studios of WGBH News. Our mission is to ensure the survival of rigorous, in-depth investigative journalism in New England and to train a new generation of investigative reporters.

In effort to be ‘green,’ property owners misuse coveted LEED designation

Lauren Owens-LEED-06-SW

 

When Scott Hardin found a home four years ago for his real estate appraisal firm, The Appraiser Guy, at Woburn’s Trade Center 128, he was pleased to settle into the “green” building. Besides the convenient location on Route 128, the building was equipped with solar panels, low-flow toilets, and even bathroom towel dispensers that use smaller sheets of paper. The building’s advertised LEED credentials played a big part in Hardin’s decision to rent there. The LEED award – Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design – is the building industry standard for environmental and energy efficiency used worldwide and issued by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council. A bronze wall plaque in the lobby of the half-million-square-foot Trade Center, owned by Cummings Properties, features a USGBC logo. Continue Reading →

Should Taxpayers Pay for These Climate Casualties?

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With few offshore barriers to curb a storm’s fury, Scituate is the front line in New England’s expensive, losing battle against the sea. The coastal town accounts for nearly 40 percent of Massachusetts’ homes and businesses that are so flood-prone the federal government calls them “severe repetitive loss” properties. Now a growing movement is underway to level the homes that cost taxpayers the most to keep dry. Watch the video above to find out more about how taxpayers could be on the line for these climate casualties. Continue Reading →

As flood damage from storms swells, a growing, controversial call to buy out homeowners

Lauren Owens-NECIR-Scituate-12

Scituate is the front line in New England’s expensive, losing battle against the sea. With few offshore barriers to curb a storm’s fury, the coastal town accounts for nearly 40 percent of Massachusetts’ homes and businesses that are so flood-prone the federal government calls them “severe repetitive loss” properties. Now a growing movement is underway to level the homes that cost taxpayers the most to keep dry. The state Legislature in July set aside $20 million in a bond bill to begin a voluntary buyback for repeatedly damaged coastal homes and convert the land to recreational areas or wildlife refuges. Coastal legislators are urging new Governor Charlie Baker to tap into the fund in the wake of January’s blizzard. Continue Reading →

Proposed law aims to protect homeowners from private tax lien sales

The Dartmouth town administrator thumbs through documents before auctioning off some properties with tax liens.

 

Newly proposed state legislation would limit the profits that private companies make by buying tax liens from cash-strapped municipalities and foreclosing on homes if tax debts go unpaid. The bill, versions of which were filed Jan. 16 in the Massachusetts House and Senate, would restrict financial gains made by third-party investment firms who are increasingly buying municipal debts and seeking to foreclose on homeowners. Instead, any proceeds from a sale would go to the property owner and town, while third parties would be allowed smaller profits on interest and fees. The legislation, among other things, would require companies to more clearly explain to delinquent homeowners how their tax debts could lead to a property seizure; remove the penalty of arrest for tax delinquency; require companies that buy liens to be licensed by the state as debt collectors; and make it easier for towns and cities to help troubled residents – especially the elderly and disabled – pay what they owe. Continue Reading →

What is private mortgage insurance, and how can it end up suing you?

Foreclosure House

The New England Center for Investigative Reporting has found that more than 200 Massachusetts home owners and thousands more across the United States have been pursued by mortgage insurers for losses ranging from tens of thousands of dollars to more than $200,000 since the foreclosure crisis began. And consumer have scant control over whether their insurance company will demand money from them after a foreclosure. Continue Reading →