Not only did local lawmakers respond strongly to reporter Grace Ferguson’s investigation into “home equity theft,” but readers had intense reactions as well.

The special report detailed how one Boston real estate investment firm earned millions by foreclosing on property tax debts it purchased from cities and towns, including New Bedford.

The company, Tallage, bought property tax debt from the city and pursued foreclosure to collect on the debt. But many of the property owners lost their houses — and all the equity in them — over debts of just a few thousand dollars or less, according to The Light’s analysis of tax, property, court, and assessor records.

Following is some of the reader reactions on our website and social media:

“Kudos to Ms. Ferguson for highlighting the sales of tax titles. I think her coverage exposed the nub of the issue: it was an easy, efficient, and fast way to solve a problem. As long as you’re not worried about unintended consequences, that is. Aren’t city officials paid to be worried about these things? There’s no doubt the city has tax title problems but there’s doubt that the city devoted sufficient time and resources to a coordinated effort to collect those back taxes. What were the steps? What staff were involved? Was it a full- or part-time effort? How many cases did the city, itself, pursue? I’m also struck by the apparent collusion between Boston financial sharks and local officials who were convinced that an auction was the answer and, lo and behold, whose very advocates were the sole bidders. Public bidding usually doesn’t work this way and when it does, there’s real cause for concern. One hopes this spurs a more organized, aggressive, and nuanced local approach to tackling the problem, and a successful effort to reform outdated and regressive tax collection laws. No locality should have to rely on financial sharks to solve their fiscal problems. As Ms. Ferguson highlights, when they do there’s plenty of blood in the water.”

— Richard Walega

“The New Bedford Light did not reach out to me regarding this issue but, if they had, I would have provided my perspective as the chief financial officer of the city during this period.

“New Bedford at this time was in a very difficult situation — the city’s tax title inventory had been growing steadily for years, despite our proactive efforts to work with taxpayers. We offered payment plans and other incentives allowed by state law, sometimes more than once after a property owner would default on the first agreement. It was our experience that delinquent taxpayers were not taking the threat of enforcement seriously, a situation that was driving the tax liability for current payers ever higher. And the impact of an excessive tax title inventory was felt in the city’s cash flow as well as its credit rating.

“The tax title sale approach was vetted by all levels of government and generally accepted as the only tool left available to demonstrate that the city was serious about collecting the taxes that were owed. We only sold tax titles on chronically delinquent accounts. And the program worked, reducing the city’s tax title every year that the program was in place.

“I am sympathetic to the impact that tax title sales can have on property owners, but The Light is not portraying this issue objectively if it ignores the long-running, proactive and expensive enforcement efforts that caused the city to utilize this approach.”

— Ari Sky

Editor’s note: Mr. Sky’s comments appeared in a reaction story the day after the investigation was published.

“Excellent investigative and public service reporting.”

— Lynne DeLucia Millea

“There are many things horribly wrong with this system, but I was immediately struck by one thing that it has in common with other problems faced by people with few resources: Does Massachusetts not have usury laws? Predatory lending, unfair mortgage and foreclosure practices, and exorbitant interest rates all contribute to the loss of property and the impossibility of breaking out of financial chaos.”

— Beth Luey


— Jim Kendall

“This article irresponsibly misrepresents the amount of equity in these homes due to prior liens and mortgages that must be cleared. It also fails to mention how much the market has moved in the past four years. The housing market has been a rocket ship. By the time these companies take ownership of a property and sell it, values can go up quite a bit. The market could have gone in the opposite direction since 2019 in which case Tillage wouldn’t have made much money and there would have been nothing to write about.”

— Rob M

“This shows what a joke the state reps are. When a sick person was taking up skirt photos at a bank, they made a law up in 24 hours. Now people are having their entire financial equity stolen over a few thousand dollar tax delinquency. Where are our local state reps of this abuse?”

— Ken Costa

“So, who wrote the laws/regs which allow it to happen and allow those laws/regs to continue on the books without being restricted????”

— Dave Robinson

“’The only city with more Tax foreclosures was Boston.’’ Sounds like Tallage is more of a scavenger than a predator? Perhaps New Bedford property tax rate and padded assessments are not exactly sustainable for some homeowners?”

— Melissa Chester-Letendre

“You guys do such a great job. It’s very unusual to see local issues covered in the thoughtful, comprehensive way that you do.”

— Steve Sciscento

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