The threat of foreclosure has been a big incentive in getting blighted houses cleaned up in Medford, but the City Council signaled Thursday it wants to continue to aggressively go after problem properties and possibly expand the program to tackle derelict commercial buildings.

"I'm for going forward with commercial properties," Councilor Dick Gordon said.

The council received a rundown on its new ordinance, passed in December, which allows the city to place vacant residential structures in receivership if the owners don't take action to deal with their property.

Gordon wants the city to go after buildings such as an abandoned funeral home on West Main Street. He also said the city should continue "full-steam ahead" in dealing with problem properties.

Four of the properties threatened with receivership — at 1001 Central Ave., 205 Chestnut St., 1857 Easy St. and 1932 Hybiscus St. — have not responded to 60-day notices from the city.

But Sam Barnum, city building director, said he's seen a Dumpster and tractor at the Central Avenue house, which has been vacant for more than a decade, possibly indicating the owners are about to demolish it.

The city is working on a list of 40 problem properties, six of which have received letters threatening receivership. Two of the properties in the possible foreclosure program have filed action plans with the city.

Other properties on the long list are going through code enforcement actions or through other programs. Four properties — at 1866 Springbrook Road, 1212 W. 10th St., 1039 Cherry St. and 24 N. Orange St. — could soon receive a notice of receivership, if the council approves the action. 

Eight properties have cleared their violations. Eleven properties that were not part of the receivership program have filed action plans.

Four properties will be receiving federal grants, and Habitat for Humanity has taken over two of those properties.

One house, at 1105 Shafer Lane, was demolished without permits.

Councilor Tim Jackle told the council at a study session that the easy part of the cleanup is coming to an end, and that difficult court actions, which could be costly and time-consuming for the city, are coming up.

"When are we going to drop the mother of all bombs?" he said. "Are there other properties when the nuclear option is not appropriate?"

Already the number of properties being dealt with by the city is taxing building staff.

Barnum, who has taken on much of the responsibility for the derelict properties program by himself, told the council that he needed its authorization to start allowing title searches on some properties to determine ownership, a move that would help address the responsible party — and in case the city has to start legal action.

The council agreed that Barnum could start dipping into $100,000 set aside for the receivership program to run the title searches.

Barnum said the city only goes after abandoned houses in the receivership program rather than owner-occupied residences.

— Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.