Kearns: Donate Zombie homes to local charities

Posted at 7:40 AM, Jan 27, 2016

A Western New York lawmaker is teaming up with charities to confront the "Zombie Property" problem in local neighborhoods.

Vacant and abandoned properties are often referred to as "Zombie Properties;" they are usually part of an extended foreclosure proceeding where the owners have vacated and the banks have not yet taken control.

There are nearly 800 abandoned "Zombie Properties" in Western New York, and they impose a huge burden on local municipalities who have to spend large amounts of money to cut grass, board up windows, and tear down structures that are deemed unsafe. 

The State Senate introduced a bill last May that its sponsors say would help alleviate the burden.  It was called the "Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act of 2015" and it would mandate banks, mortgage companies, and credit unions to keep a close eye on the maintenance of homes in foreclosure; reducing the burden on cities, towns, and villages. It would also set up a state-wide registry through the Department of Financial Services so vacant homes can be tracked. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman vocally supported the bill, but it never made it out of committee.

In the meantime, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has gotten agreements from 13 major banks, mortgage companies  and credit unions who say they will voluntarily monitor the condition of homes in foreclosure. The agreement represents about 70 percent of financing companies that have properties in New York State.

Locally, New York Assemblyman Michael Kearns has worked to hold banks accountable for these "Zombie Properties" with his "Shame the Bank" campaign.  Kearns and other concerned members of the community visit abandoned, "Zombie Properties" in Western New York and place a sign on the lawn calling on the bank who holds the mortgage to take responsibility.

In an editorial emailed to 7 Eyewitness News, Assemblyman Michael Kearns, along with representatives from the Western New York Law Center and Habitat for Humanity, proposed a new idea for handling the "Zombie Property" crisis -- the banks should donate the homes to active community organizations and charities.

In the editorial, the writers say that the properties often need excessive and costly repairs, which Habitat for Humanity volunteers could do cheaply. Both the town and the banks would save money on maintenance.

The homes could then go to families on Habitat for Humanity's waiting list, taking needy families and homeless veterans off the street. The local municipalities could then reap the benefits of collecting property taxes.

The editorial gives an example of how that is exactly what's happening to a West Seneca property located at 290 Germania Street. The editorial reports that the investor who purchased the property has made a commitment to donate it once all of the legal hurdles are cleared.

The editorial ends with a plea from the writers to the banks asking them to share their lists of abandoned and foreclosed properties so that everyone can work together toward finding a solution.





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