It was the brightest of times, it was the darkest of times.
At the corner of Chestnut and Greene Streets Saturday morning, the sun poured onto Matthew Short (pictured, far left), 29, as family, newfound friends, even City Hall second-in-command Rob Smuts, offered congratulations.
“Nice going,” one said. Another, simply: “It’s beautiful.” The resume-described “experienced real estate professional” had just won the bid of a lifetime: $365,000 at an 11 a.m. foreclosure sale for 231 Greene St. — elaborate woodwork, New Haven Preservation Trust Merit Award and all. Short secured the bid Saturday after attending a practice auction just one week prior in the Hill.
The property, he said as he admired its pasty yellow porch and decorative columns, has “terrific potential.” “It is,” Short said, “to my taste.” Then again, the muscular and energetic real-estate consultant has still not yet seen inside the home — not a particularly easy-to-swallow thought.
“It’s scary,” he said. “Really scary.”
Inside 231 Greene St. (pictured), there was no sun.
On the first floor at least, there was only Frank Gambardella (pictured above, far right, fumbling with his rusty front-door lock) and virtual darkness as the septuagenarian sulked alone in a barren living room spotted ever so intermittently with living-room essentials and nothing more — a bundle of mail, a lone chair, a muted lamp, a photograph, a memento.
In an adjacent room, a dining-room table sat, long past its prime; drinking glasses, accumulating dust, lined every inch of its surface. No one, it seemed, had gathered there in years. No one, it seemed, had turned on the lights recently either.
“I don’t want to be a crybaby,” mumbled Gambardella as he sat down at that table for an interview later Saturday, “but I just don’t feel like life’s been fair to me. It was just a horrible year.”
And the commotion outside his house had only made matters worse.
“I’m confused,” he said, tears forming in the eyes of a man who appears not to cry often. “Really confused.”
‘The Only Grocery Store Around’
When Short edged out three other bidders for the Greene Street property Saturday — his first successful attempt at purchasing a home facing foreclosure — he knew he was getting more than met the eye. As Adrelle Cowie (pictured), his mother and the owner of Chelsea Company real estate, put it, one of 231’s most alluring features is the mysterious historical Merit Award above its porch.
But neither Short nor Cowie — nor anyone interviewed in the crowd of a dozen or so locals who gathered for the sale — knew why it was there.
Gambardella filled in the details.
As pictured below, the home was once more than just a home — and its porch more than a porch. From the 1950s through the 1970s, 231 Greene St. was “the only grocery store around.” And Gambardella’s parents were its owners.
Frank and his siblings — a brother and a sister — grew up there as the family rented out top-floor rooms to tenants. One by one, the children moved out; life went on. When Gambardella’s mother died at age 91, however, Frank returned, eight years ago he said, to reclaim the home and live amid its misty rooms once again.
The trouble did not start until recently.
“I ran into tenants,” Gambardella, an x-ray technician, said before taking a sudden turn for the blunt: “The guys in the second floor are drug addicts … so is the guy on the third.”
Emphasizing that he does not consider them “bad guys,” but simply addicted, he recounted a story from a “year or two ago” that began with what appeared to be a third-floor water leak. He and the second-floor tenants went to investigate.
When they found a locked door — and, soon after, a still body — they dialed 911. The firefighters came first, pronouncing the tenant dead on arrival. A drug overdose, perhaps. Later in the evening, though, police detected a pulse. He was alive, after all.
That disturbing tale, Gambardella said, captures his recent experiences with tenants. Although he said part of him would like to eject the third-floor patron for someone more responsible, he said the “city” told him that doing so could be harmful since the would-be-dead housemate had been placed on a program, which Gambardella said he remains on to this day.
How does rent fare in this thorny equation? “Nobody’s paying,” he said. “It’s got to be about nine months since” someone has done so in full.
Not a ‘Crybaby’
To compound matters — and explain why he has not paid his taxes recently, a factor that prompted the foreclosure — Gambardella became even more somber when asked about rumors swirling outside earlier in the day that he was swindled by his business partner.
Not quite, he said, but close.
“I” — along with the IRS and FBI — “found out that the doctor I worked with was … committing Medicare fraud,” he said, declining the offer details. “I lost all my clients” and to boot, the FBI and IRS froze “around $200,000” worth of assets, he said, rendering him financially inviable.
“I’ve got two women in the IRS now listening to me though, and they are on my side,” he said, his normally downcast eyes suddenly brightening as he explained why he thinks he can still fight the foreclosure before someone purchases the home.
That had just happened, though, a reporter reminded him.
“No way, too soon,” he said. “That’s much too soon.
“There’s memories in the house and feelings of my brother, father and sister,” he said before repeating a mantra. “But I’m not going to be a crybaby.”
‘As Humane As I Can Be’
Short (pictured), for his part, said he “definitely understands” that there is a statutory period during which Gambardella has “every right” to take house back.
But even if he cannot, Short — a justice of the peace, a former chairman of the New Haven Board of Assessment Appeals and a current member of the Financial Review and Audit Commission — said he might allow the former owner to stay anyway for some time.
“I don’t want to start making decisions before I have information,” he said, noting that he has “no idea who this guy is.” “I like to be as humane I can be in everything I do, within reason, so that [being humane] is probably the best prediction of what I will do.” (Either way, he looks forward to fixing up the home, restoring its decaying facade and possible internal damage to its one-time shine.)
Currently single, Short said he might be able to live comfortably in the second or third-floor suite for some time, explaining that “flexibility” is why it makes so much “sense” for someone in his situation to buy a multi-family home.
But could he see himself raising a family at 231 Green St. one day, too?
Short paused, surveying the peaceful corner just blocks from Lucibello’s, Pepe’s and Sally’s, Conte/West Hills Magnet School, Wooster Square Park, a church and the City Farmers’ Market.
“Yes,” he said, grinning. “I could.”
Previous Independent coverage of New Haven’s foreclosure crisis:
‚Ä¢2 Homes Lost, 1 Gained
‚Ä¢ “Everybody’s Got To Eat”
‚Ä¢ More Foreclosures, More Signs
‚Ä¢ Foreclosure Sale Benefits Archie Moore’s
‚Ä¢ Rescue Squad Swings Into Action
‚Ä¢ A Bidder Shows Up
‚Ä¢ Bank Beats Tanya’s Bid
‚Ä¢ Westville Auction Draws A Crowd
‚Ä¢ DeStefano: Foreclosure Plan Ready
‚Ä¢ Can They Help?
‚Ä¢ “We Should Over-Regulate These Bastards”
‚Ä¢ Rosa Hears of Rescues
‚Ä¢ WPCA Grilled on Foreclosures
‚Ä¢ WPCA’s Targets Struggle To Dig Out
‚Ä¢ Sue The Subprimers?
‚Ä¢ WPCA Hearing Delayed
‚Ä¢ Megna’s “Blood Boils” at WPCA Tactics
‚Ä¢ Goldfield Wants WPCA Answers
‚Ä¢ 2 Days, 8 Foreclosure Suits
‚Ä¢ WPCA Goes On Foreclosure Binge
‚Ä¢ A Guru Weighs In
‚Ä¢ WPCA Targets Church
‚Ä¢ Subprime Mess Targeted
‚Ä¢ Renters Caught In Foreclosure King’s Fall
‚Ä¢ She’s One Of 1,150 In The Foreclosure Mill
‚Ä¢ Foreclosures Threaten Perrotti’s Empire
‚Ä¢“I’m Not Going To Lay Down And Let Them Take My House”
‚Ä¢ Struggling Couple Sues Over “Scam”
The following links are to various materials and brochures designed to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.
How to prepare a complaint to the Department of Banking; Department of Banking Online Assistance Form; Connecticut Department of Banking, Avoiding Foreclosure; FDIC Consumer News; Statewide Legal Services of Connecticut, Inc; Connecticut Bar Association Lawyer Referral Service.
For lawyer referral services in New Haven, call 562-5750 or visit this website. For the Department of Social Services (DSS) Eviction Foreclosure Prevention Program (EFPP), call 211 to see which community-based organization in the state serves your town.
Click here for information on foreclosure prevention efforts from Empower New Haven.