Fighting the Blight of ‘Zombie Homes’ and Giving Them New Life 

The Problem

At its peak in 2010, the housing crisis resulted in foreclosure filings against 2.87 million properties nationwide. In New York State, the foreclosure inventory reached a high of 101,000 in 2012.1 Foreclosure rates upstate remain high with 15,000 upstate in 2017, and rates remaining steady for the beginning of 2018. Communities throughout the state are still feeling residual effects in the form of deteriorating residential properties tied to zombie mortgages.

Zombie Properties

A “zombie,” is a vacant structure, typically a one-to-four-family house, with a mortgage that is stuck in foreclosure process. The owner resident has abandoned the property, but the bank has not taken title or responsibility. Properties become damaged from weather, scavenging, squatters, and criminal activity. They have a negative effect on neighboring property value. Because the ownership is often difficult to ascertain, municipalities cannot use their typical enforcement mechanisms to keep the buildings safe.

New York State saw a large increase in zombie properties from 2013 to 2015: By 2015 New York zombie foreclosures totaled 16,777 properties.2 Cities, towns, and villages could do little to address these deteriorating zombies because the banks had no legal responsibility for upkeep and rarely did anything to accelerate the foreclosure process. This trend added to the rising number of uninhabited houses plaguing some municipalities due to job losses and population decrease. The result was a crisis of empty properties, vacant for any number of reasons, causing significant distress to surrounding houses, blocks and neighborhoods.

According to a Newsday report earlier this year, while 2.1 of every 1,000 homes in New York State is a zombie home, that rate is nearly doubled on Long Island, where 4.13 of every 1,000 homes is a zombie home, with the rate in some communities rising as high as 20 per 1,000.

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