Hundreds of dilapidated so called ‘zombie’ houses are ruining property values, targets for arsonists, and often a public health danger. Many are owned by out-of-state banks that avoid foreclosure by keeping up on the property taxes. Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi (D) 119th Assembly District says the State now has grants that can be used to deal with these properties.
"We know that throughout the Mohawk Valley there’s hundreds of these properties, and that’s one of the reasons why we wanted to put money in the State Budget to allow land banks like the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank to access that funding so they can purchase these properties which have been abandoned and foreclosed, and then rehab them to put them back on the tax rolls so they’re not blight in the communities anymore."
Tom Carcone, President IFF Local 32 Utica Professional Firefighters Association talked about how important this funding is.
"These places are targets for arson and codes compliance, infestation into neighboring houses, and this initiative is going to help us with some of those quality of life and safety issues throughout our neighborhood."
Tolga Morawski, the Executive Director of the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank says there’s hundreds of properties in need, but they’re goal is to work on 5-10 zombie properties over the next 2 years. That’s because this is such a slow process.
"So what happens is the first bank that had the mortgage will foreclose, and then often times they’ll sell it or re-sell it or bundle it to these REO (Real-Estate Owned) sellers. This one in particular is Castle Rock, which just buys hundreds of these properties sight unseen. Doesn’t do anything with them, so it took us a while to nail down who owned it and when, and then to finally get to the point where they would accept an offer."
2 years ago we brought you a story about Joe Cucharale, a man who’s spent the last 5 years fighting to have someone deal with a zombie property next to his home. On Thursday May 24th local officials met at his house to announce the acquisition of that property by the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank.
Joe Marino, Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank Treasurer says "Zombie properties often attract criminal behavior. They’re a nation-wide frequent target of arsonists. This not only drives down the value of neighboring properties, but it also puts our public safety professionals at great risk."
The State has budgeted grant money to be used to demolish or rehabilitate these properties. We asked Joe Cucharale
“Are you going to be disappointed if they end up rehabbing this then?”
"Yes, Yes, and the neighbors will too as well. If all the neighbors, and I’ve talked to them dozens and dozens of times. They know that it’s just…it can’t be."
But according to Tolga Morawski, the goal of the Land Bank is to try to get these properties back on the tax rolls if they think the house can be saved.
"Originally we were looking at demoing this property because there did seem to be a lot of issues, but once we gained access to the property and really assessed the bones, our project manager felt that it would be better as a rehab."
Joe believes the property poses a danger to the kids in the area, and the house is well beyond repair.
"It would be useless to put money into that house and get the value of what would remain. There’s no way. I’ve had contractor after contractor who came here when they saw the sign and said if you gave it to me we would not take it. It would cost too much to get this in new shape."
While Joe and his neighbors may want to see this house demolished, the goal now is to make this into a place to call home.
Senator Joseph Griffo said: "Abandoned and blighted properties aren't only eyesores, but they can have a negative effect on neighborhoods, residents and entire communities. I am pleased to see that the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank will be acquiring this property and am optimistic that they will be able to enhance it"