New York Grapples With Abandoned ‘Zombie Homes’

September 8, 2014

New York has an estimated 15,000 homes that have been abandoned by owners after receiving foreclosure notices. With no one taking care of the properties they often fall into disrepair, hurting surrounding neighborhoods and putting a drain on local governments. Now, New York officials are trying to deal with the zombie epidemic.

The problem:

Zombie homes are a particular problem in states like New York, where foreclosures can take years. Too often, a homeowner leaves the property after they get a notice of foreclosure, even though they have a right to remain until the process is complete. In some cases, lenders never follow through with the foreclosures.

With no regular maintenance, the home’s condition deteriorates. Grass doesn’t get cut. Weeds spring up. Pipes burst, mold grows and pests move in. The homes often become magnets for vandalism and crime.

In New York one in 10 mortgages is at risk of foreclosure, according to New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman.

The solution:

Legal and financial assistance is available to homeowners looking to avoid foreclosure, which Schneiderman says is the best way to stopping the wave of zombie homes.

Several local communities in hard-hit areas have created land banks that allow them to purchase, refurbish and sell abandoned properties.

The New York State Division of Housing and Community Renewal supports several programs intended to help local communities rehabilitate homes and redevelop neighborhoods. Some initiatives fund home maintenance for low-income elderly owners; others aim to help homeowners avoid foreclosure by adjusting their mortgages. Community housing agencies funded by the division completed more than 8,600 minor home repairs and more than 12,000 home repairs and more than 4,000 rehabilitation projects in 2012.

Since the state’s neighborhood preservation program began in 1977, more than $350 million has been spent throughout the state. Other programs, like HOME Program, provide assistance to low-income home buyers or groups looking to rehabilitate older homes.

Legislation proposed by Schneiderman and backed by mayors from several cities would require banks or other lenders to maintain a property once it has become abandoned. The proposal would also create a registry of zombie homes so local officials would know when a property isn’t being cared for.

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