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Get creative to provide homes and reduce zombie houses

Another boarded-up house in Queens Village on April

Another boarded-up house in Queens Village on April 27, 2015. Photo Credit: Cristian Salazar

Beyond the crowded and costly Manhattan skyline, zombie homes in New York City's outer boroughs are crying out for some attention and occupation.

Some scary findings were released late last month about the housing crisis brewing in the city in the past few years. A growing rate of foreclosures is oddly coupled with an extremely high occupancy rate for rentals. There may not be much that can be done to find an apartment in Manhattan, but there has to be a creative way to get folks living in these empty homes.

RealtyTrac, which studies real estate nationwide, found a 28% increase in the number of derelict houses in NYC between January 2014 and May 2015. According to a report yesterday in amNewYork, Brooklyn had 1,050 zombie houses (up 22%) and Queens had 905 (14% higher). Staten Island saw a 62% increase, leading all boroughs.

The real estate research company Axiometrics found that NYC has one of the highest rental occupancy rates of metro areas -- about 96%. People undoubtedly want to live here, but there seems to be no route to removing obstacles that keep zombie houses empty.

These homes are not just neighborhood eyesores. Besides driving down property values, they promote squatting and encourage crime, especially looting. With the process of foreclosure in New York State taking an average of three years to complete -- nearly a year longer than the national average -- these properties become zombified by the time it's all over.

State officials announced last month that 11 banks, mortgage lenders and credit unions have agreed to voluntarily help keep houses in good condition during foreclosures. Also, legislation from the state attorney general's office that would fine banks $1,000 a day for not caring for houses is under consideration.

While these are good steps toward resolving the crisis, looking forward should be a priority before punishing the past. With the term "affordable housing" being thrown around, there's an opportunity here. The city needs to create a task force that can quickly flip these unused houses into appealing homes.


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