Activists Accuse W.H.A.L.E. of Gentrifying New Bedford Neighborhood
Activists gathered outside 305-307 Pleasant St. in New Bedford Friday to protest the planned auction of a two-family historic home to the Waterfront Historic Area League – but WHALE had the auction canceled at the last minute and promised to conduct more community outreach before moving forward with its latest housing rehab project.
Around 25 people showed up at the protest, including a potential heir to the property and organizers from Black Lives Matter.
Former Ward 4 City Councilor Dana Rebeiro told WBSM that WHALE, a non-profit community development corporation with a historic preservation focus, took advantage of a Cape Verdean family to secure the abandoned property. She further accused the organization of acting as a force of gentrification.
"This is a traditionally Cape Verdean neighborhood," Rebeiro said. "They don't have the lawyers and money to compete." Rebeiro said an heir to the house – 30-year-old Clayton Timas of Assonnet – was never contacted by WHALE when the property went into receivership several years ago.
"I was able to find Clayton on Facebook in less than an hour," said real estate agent Robin Andrade, who had originally been interested in bidding on the property. "How can they say they weren't able to find him?"
In a telephone interview, the two said that Clayton Timas, a bank branch manager in Assonett, could not come up with the $100,000 to secure his family home at auction. They said Timas moved to New Bedford from Cape Verde in 2002. He lived at the house with his father, Joaquim Timas, and his stepmother, who he did not get along with. When his father died, Clayton went to college and lost touch with the stepmother and the property. Rebeiro and Andrade said WHALE should have made an effort to contact Timas before embarking on the project.
"It's gentrification," said Rebeiro. "He should not have to bid on his own family home."
WHALE on Friday defended its work, saying they take abandoned historic properties into receivership, fix them up, and provide affordable housing to New Bedford residents. However, "we recognize that we have significant work to do in terms of outreach to strengthen our relationship with the community," the organization said in a statement. WHALE said it is aware of "anger and distress in the community" and is "deeply saddened to be the cause of any pain in our community." The organization said it would put things on hold at 305-307 Pleasant Street while listening to community concerns.
WHALE, which aims to revitalize New Bedford through historic preservation, was appointed receiver of the abandoned property several years ago by the Southeastern Housing Court. Since then, WHALE has poured at least $100,000 into the house, described as an "1897 Victorian Revival" with interior period woodwork still intact. Among other things, WHALE removed vinyl siding and installed new windows.
Friday's planned auction was part of the Attorney General's Abandoned Housing Initiative, a Massachusetts program that aims to rehabilitate abandoned and dilapidated properties and transform them into affordable housing. Under the program, whoever buys the house at auction would have to pay off a lien equaling the money put into the property by the receiver. The lien is often higher than the market value of the property, basically setting up the receiver -- often a non-profit housing developer -- to be the sole bidder.
WHALE has been through the process three times before. Homes at 318 Pleasant Street, 148 Hawthorn Street, and 149 Allen Street have been restored through the Abandoned Housing Initiative. "On each of these projects, we completed rehabilitation work and then sold the property. We did not profit on any of these projects," WHALE said.
"As a nonprofit, financial gain is not one of our objectives," WHALE continued. "We strive to empower the community with homeownership opportunities and affordable housing."
WHALE was founded in 1962 and over nearly six decades has preserved dozens of architecturally significant buildings in the city.
"We hope that we can begin the process of healing and understanding and continue with our mission to enhance community and economic vitality in New Bedford," the organization said.
Correction: A former version showed a photograph of the wrong house.