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State offers grant to combat 'zombie homes'

ALBANY – A new grant initiative aims to address the growing statewide problem of so-called “zombie homes” – vacant and abandoned homes that are not maintained during a prolonged foreclosure proceeding.

The Zombie Remediation and Prevention Initiative will provide $13 million in grants to local governments throughout the state through a competitive application process. The 100 communities with the greatest problem of zombies and vacancy have been invited to apply for the funds. The money will address housing vacancy and blight by bolstering municipalities’ capacity for housing code enforcement, for tracking and monitoring vacant properties, and for legal enforcement capacity to ensure banks and mortgage companies comply with local and state law.  The grants also require communities to develop innovative programs and policies and connect at-risk homeowners to services so they can avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes. The initiative coincides with the recent passage of the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act, a bill that was authored by Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, championed by Senator Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) and Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein (D-Brooklyn), and signed into law by Governor Cuomo on June 23rd.

“Too many communities across this state have been hit hard by the proliferation of zombie properties,” said Schneiderman. “This new grant initiative puts tools directly in the hands of towns and cities across the state to reverse course, rebuild from the foreclosure crisis, and put zombie homes in the rear-view mirror.”

Funding for the initiative will be drawn from the $3.2 billion settlement agreement with 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.

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) is running the grant program. LISC is a national community development intermediary that specializes in affordable housing, economic development, and community revitalization. LISC selected the grantees for this program based on the number of abandoned properties within the municipality; the proportion of such properties compared to the overall size of the municipality; and its level of general economic distress. All invitees must have populations of at least 5,000 residents and at least 100 vacant and abandoned properties.

Applications are due on Tuesday, August 16th, by 5 p.m. and award notifications will be made by early September 2016.

LISC expects to award grants in amounts ranging from $75,000 to $350,000, depending on the size of the municipality, the scope of its zombie problem, and its track record and capacity for addressing such issues. Each municipality must also include a prevention component in its application, to connect families to services that help families avoid foreclosure, including programs supported by the Attorney General, describe in more detail below.

There are at least 16,000 zombie homes across the state, based on data released by Realty Trac in 2015. Zombie homes invite crime, threaten public safety, and drive down the value of surrounding homes.  Studies have shown that each zombie property reduces the value of all homes within 750 feet by one percent.

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