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State Earmarks $13M To Help Combat Spread Of 'Zombie' Homes

An abandoned home was razed recently on Fifth Avenue in Mount Vernon, the most recent one to be torn down on the new mayor’s watch. The state will be awarding $13 million in grants to help municipalities fight the growing problem of "zombie" homes.
An abandoned home was razed recently on Fifth Avenue in Mount Vernon, the most recent one to be torn down on the new mayor’s watch. The state will be awarding $13 million in grants to help municipalities fight the growing problem of "zombie" homes. Photo Credit: Zak Failla

The state is going zombie hunting.

Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced Thursday that 100 communities have been invited to apply for $13 million in grants to combat the growing problem of decaying houses left in limbo because the mortgage holders have fled and the banks haven't taken possession through foreclosure.

There are at least 16,000 so-called "zombie" homes in New York state, according to data released by Realty Trac in 2015.

The new initiative will help communities “hit hard” by the problem to “reverse course, rebuild from the foreclosure crisis, and put zombie homes in the rear-view mirror,” the attorney general said.

Among those municipalities being invited to apply are: the city of Poughkeepsie and the village of Wappingers Falls in Dutchess County; the town of Carmel in Putnam County; the town of Clarkstown in Rockland County; and the cities of Yonkers, Mount Vernon, White Plains and Peekskill in Westchester County.

The money, which will be administered by the Local Initiatives Support Corp., will be used to battle blight by bolstering housing code enforcement.

It also will pay for the tracking and monitoring of vacant properties and for legal enforcement to ensure banks and mortgage companies comply with local and state law.

Schneiderman said the program requires communities to develop programs and policies that help at-risk homeowners avoid foreclosure and to stay in their homes.

The grants program coincides with the recent passage of the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act, a bill authored by Schneiderman. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it into law last month.

According to a report by pewtrust.org, mayors in New York pushed the proposal by Schneiderman to require banks to take responsibility for maintenance once a home is vacant.

Money for the program comes from a $3.2 billion settlement with multi-national lender Morgan Stanley that Schneiderman, as co-chair of the federal-state working group on residential-mortgage-based securities, negotiated in February.

That settlement generated $550 million in cash and consumer relief for New Yorkers, Schneiderman said.

The Local Initiatives Support Corp. expects to award grants in amounts ranging from $75,000 to $350,000. The award will depend on the municipality’s size, the scope of its “zombie” problem and its track record and capacity for addressing housing issues.

Applications are due in mid-August and the state plans to notify the winners by early September.

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