Attorney General announces funds to combat zombie properties

The Town of Herkimer, with its grant partners the Villages of Herkimer and Ilion and the City of Oneonta, are recipients of a $200,000 grant announced by New York State Attorney General Letitia James.

Posted: Aug 2, 2019 1:24 PM
Updated: Aug 2, 2019 2:08 PM

LITTLE FALLS – The Town of Herkimer, with its grant partners the Villages of Herkimer and Ilion and the City of Oneonta, are recipients of a $200,000 grant announced by New York State Attorney General Letitia James. The four awardees are collaborating with the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank (GMVLB) to implement the goals of the grant across Herkimer, Montgomery, Otsego and Schoharie Counties.

Attorney General James also announced that the City of Utica received $200, 000 and the City of Rome received $150,000. Both cities are members of GMVLB.

“The grant provides funds to municipalities to increase housing code enforcement, track and monitor vacant properties, and bolster legal enforcement capacity to ensure banks and mortgage companies comply with local and state law,” said James.

“Too many communities throughout New York State are blighted by abandoned homes that decrease property values and threaten the safety of our neighborhoods,” said James. “This grant supports municipalities and ensures they have resources they need to combat this nuisance.”

The Zombies 2.0 program is a result of the Office of the NY Attorney General’s $500 Million Settlement with the Royal Bank of Scotland, in 2018, over the bank’s deceptive practice and misrepresentations to investors relating to the packaging, marketing, sale, and issuance of residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBS) that can lead to financial crisis.

James said the grant will accomplish many things throughout GMVLB’s catchment area:
• Improve data collection and analysis to track vacant and abandoned properties;
• Invest in new technology to better address the collective impact of vacant properties on neighborhoods;
• Hire a Zombie coordinator or “quarterback” and create task forces to coordinate local code enforcement activities;
• Boost capacity of code enforcement and legal departments to enforce relevant laws to make lien holders accountable; and,
• Connect at-risk homeowners to foreclosure prevention resources.

The creation of the Zombie Remediation and Prevention Initiative coincided with the passage of the New York State Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act of 2016 (the “Zombie Law”) which requires banks and other mortgagees to externally maintain vacant one-to-four family houses during the foreclosure process or face a potential penalty of up to $500 per day per property.

The Town of Herkimer, its co-applicants, and the GMVLB will use grant funds to bolster legal efforts to enforce the Zombie Law by issuing citations to noncompliant mortgagees or by taking mortgagees to court to enforce the law.

Tolga Morawski, GMVLB Executive Director, said GMVLB will partner with the Center for Community Progress, the only national nonprofit specifically dedicated to building a future in which vacant, abandoned, and deteriorated properties no longer exist.

“This grant also will allow us to work with all our member Foreclosing Governmental Units (FGUs) to provide foreclosure prevention services to at-risk homeowners to reduce foreclosures,” said Morawski.

John Mazzarella III, GMVLB’s Project Manager, said, “With more data better organized and accessible to our partners, we can better plan how to invest our resources across municipal and community lines.”

“Right now each village and town goes it alone with little communication among its municipal neighbors,” said Mazzarella. “The GMVLB has developed a model Vacant Property Registry which partners such as the New York Council of Mayors (NYCOM) can help participating communities adopt and implement,”

Mazzarella said the registry will enable enhanced code enforcement focused on vacant and abandoned properties.

The Zombie 2.0 grant provides for three additional positions focused on vacant and abandoned properties across the GMVLB region— two codes officers and a Zombie quarterback — to “shake loose” these properties from the banks and their representatives,” said Mazzarella.

“None of this can work without communities’ roll-up-your-sleeves action,” said Robert Albrecht, GMVLB’s Outreach Coordinator. “We will expand our Worthy Partner program as part of our vision to promote economic growth by mobilizing empowered citizens in their work to create vibrant, sustainable neighborhoods,” said Albrecht.

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) administers the Zombie 2.0 program with funds provided via Enterprise Community Partners.

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