Quan McCrea bought a half-burnt house on Stevens Street at a foreclosure auction as an investment — in herself, her family and her community.
McCrea and around eight other family members have formed their own affordable housing and credit repair agency, Poindexter Financial Services. They saw Saturday’s foreclosure sale as an opportunity to fix up the home and offer it as an affordable rental or purchase for someone else.
“We could be the ones to gentrify our neighborhoods in a positive way,” McCrea said.
The house at 28 Stevens St. in the Hill neighborhood was one of 21 in New Haven scheduled for foreclosure auctions on Saturday, the first day of such sales since the Covid-19 pandemic hit. A Connecticut judge had ordered a pause on foreclosures in March and lifted the order on Sept. 24.
No one was living at 28 Stevens St. when it was sold. While the front of the house shows only peeling paint and vacant windows …
… a peek around the side reveals the gray smudges and missing siding of a fire in the house’s past.
The homeowners, Carnell and Gloria Pugh, have fallen behind on property taxes and sewer fees since 2014. They never showed up in court or presented a defense, so New Haven judge Claudia Baio granted the city the right to take over and sell the property this February. Court documents show that the back taxes total $13,411.69, plus $5,518.58 in interest on those taxes.
Despite the house’s condition, McCrea concluded it was a good investment. She bought the property for $31,200, outbidding the city’s starting bid by $100. The value of the property is $140,000, not counting the fire damage.
“It still has potential. For the price, it’s not unmanageable,” McCrea said.
She pointed to a pretty blue house across the street and said that she remembered when that one looked dilapidated too.
Going! … Going! … (gone)
Those interested in bidding at the auction had until noon to show up. For a while, the attorney overseeing the sale and three middle schoolers on bikes were the only attendees at the auction.
One 13-year-old wearing a shiny silver helmet and showing off his new motorized bike told the attorney, Hamden-based David E. Rosenberg, that he should give him the property for free so the teens could keep doing wheelies in the backyard.
Another one of the young attendees asked Rosenberg whether the auction would be a fast-paced, going-once-going-twice affair. Rosenberg said that it is usually much less competitive than the auctions on television.
McCrea arrived then, looking slightly nervous, and explained that it was her first time at a foreclosure sale.
“Oh, am I the only one here?” she asked.
Rosenberg said that several interested buyers had called him before Saturday. None had appeared so far.
“That’s not unusual. Everyone’s looking around to see where they can find deals. That doesn’t mean they always show up though,” Rosenberg said.
One of the passing cars stopped and the driver, Patrick, asked how much the home would sell for. Rosenberg explained that the city’s starting bid was $31,100.
“That’s too much,” Patrick said.
By 12:02 p.m., no one else had arrived to bid. Rosenberg closed the auction with McCrea’s first bid, and they started filling out paperwork. He apologized to the Independent for failing to imbue the process with TV-like dramatic flair.
The city will take its taxes from the sale, as well as any lawyer and other fees involved in the process. Any delinquent sewer fees run with the house, so McCrea has to settle those with the Greater New Haven Water Pollution Control Authority separately.
The original owners have a chance to appeal the foreclosure for around 30 days if they suddenly appear with the money to pay their taxes. However, they haven’t been in touch so far.
It’s All In The Family
McCrea said that the rise of luxury apartment buildings in downtown New Haven solidified her recent affordable-housing quest. She described touring 360 State, the complex that houses Elm City Market. She was awed by a list of amenities that includes a pool and a theater and horrified by a $3,000 monthly cost to rent a two-bedroom for herself and her daughter.
Instead of losing that chunk of change every month to a landlord, McCrea has focused on making her income as a FedEx employee work for her.
She has been teaching her daughter the same thing: use your income to invest and build credit. Buying 28 Stevens functions like a double win in this way, McCrea said.
McCrea’s sister, cousin, uncle and aunts all contribute to the two year-old endeavor, she said. One brings financial expertise as an insurance agent, another is good at carpentry.
“It’s awesome working with your family,” McCrea said.
She expects to start work on the house within the next two to three months, as soon as they know that the sale is final. The family is hoping to fix the back of the house before winter so it doesn’t experience any further weather damage.
A Kind Gentleman
When the auction was over, neighbors started drifting over to hear what happened and meet the new owner.
Neighbor Stephanie Cotton (pictured above) offered her services as a small business owner with a crew of men ready to help clean up the house. Another neighbor expressed shock that only one bidder showed up. The neighbors had seen several potential bidders come by to check out the house.
Cotton said that neighborhood is close — they keep an eye on each other and help clean up the street together. She knew the previous owner, Carnell Pugh.
“He was a real nice older gentleman,” Cotton said. “He used to do community cookouts once a year.”
She said that Pugh had just remodeled his home when he was diagnosed with pre-dementia and moved out of the state. His son came to live on Stevens Street.
Then one day, around Christmas according to the teens, the house caught on fire. The son wasn’t hurt, Cotton said.
Since then, Cotton described trying to contact Pugh through his daughter and offering to buy the house for the amount that would let him pay the back taxes. She figured those had started to pile up after he left and described Pugh as a responsible homeowner. She said that she never heard back from the daughter.
Cotton chatted with her neighbor while McCrea and her sister checked out the back of the house. She told the neighbor, who had not yet met McCrea, that the new owner is a Black woman. Both told McCrea when she came out that they were happy she was the buyer.
“We are very concerned about who rents here,” Cotton said as McCrea listened and nodded.
Cotton said that the area might have a bad reputation as a crime hotspot but that did not apply to Stevens Street.
“We’ve been fortunate,” she said.