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New York State ‘zombie’ home fund needs new lease on life

A vacant home in Queens Village.

A vacant home in Queens Village. Photo Credit: Cristian Salazar

Halloween may be a week away — but the zombies are always haunting NYC.

It’s been nine years since the economic collapse and mortgage meltdown led to a foreclosure crisis across the region. Yet, even after the recovery, vacant, unmaintained “zombie” homes continue to blight communities, destroying quality of life, home values and the potential for revitalization.

Thousands of zombie homes are scattered across NYC, with pockets prevalent in parts of Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island. Banks holding the mortgages leave these eyesores to deteriorate until the only option is to demolish them.

The goal, of course, is to stop that pattern.

But while there have been efforts to create a registry of those vacant properties, and discussions of how to renovate them, there’s more to do.

Elected officials on Long Island have suggested that the state develop a new grant program or expand existing ones to allow communities to work with local not-for-profit organizations to purchase zombie homes, rehabilitate them, and sell them to first-time home buyers and veterans. Money from purchases would go to buying and fixing other zombie homes. Such a program could build on successes like the state’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program and Community Restoration Fund.

That idea is intriguing, one that state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Gov. Andrew Cuomo should consider, not only for the suburbs, but for the hardest-hit neighborhoods in NYC, too.

But the proposal also sheds light on a larger problem: Funds from Schneiderman’s settlements with lenders and other financial firms in the wake of the mortgage crisis are drying up, and money for ongoing efforts to curb the foreclosure crisis might be harder to find. There needs to be a state funding stream to deal with zombie homes and related issues across the state, perhaps by expanding existing programs or creating a new one.

Otherwise, these zombie properties will still horrify NYC.

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