Attorney General James Announces Funds To Combat Zombie Homes And Revitalize Neighborhoods

Attorney General James Announces Funds to Combat Zombie Homes and Revitalize Neighborhoods

More than 45 Municipalities throughout New York to Receive $9 Million in Grants to Reduce the Number of Abandoned Properties

UTICA – New York State Attorney General Letitia James today announced the recipients of $9 million in grants to address the growing statewide issue of “zombie homes” – vacant or abandoned homes that are not maintained during a prolonged foreclosure proceeding. The funding from “Zombies 2.0” will provide 48 municipalities with the resources needed to address housing vacancy and blight. The grants will provide 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. 

“Too many communities throughout New York State are blighted by abandoned homes that decrease property values and threaten the safety of our neighborhoods,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “These grants will go a long way in supporting municipalities and ensuring they have the resources they need to combat this nuisance. Revitalizing our communities is always a priority and I am proud that my office can help turn these abandoned properties into valuable assets.” 

Selected municipalities will receive grants ranging between $50,000 and $500,000 based on the size of the community, the scale and severity of their zombie problems, and their proposed use of such funds. These awards are a continuation of the 2016 Zombie Remediation and Prevention Initiative created by the Office of the New York Attorney General to address housing challenges, especially vacancy and blight; and to track-and-monitor vacant abandoned properties, to help these cities and towns to clear out zombie properties.  

This year, eight cities, towns and villages applied for the first time and were awarded funds; while thirteen other towns and villages were joint applicants.  

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. To be eligible, cities, towns and villages had to individually or for joint applications combined, have at least 5,000 residents and more than 100 vacant properties; and through these funds, these municipalities will be able to:  

  • Improve data collection and analysis to track vacant and abandoned properties; 
  • Invest in new technology to better collect and analyze data to address the collective impact of vacant properties on neighborhoods; 
  • Create “Zombie Coordinators” and Taskforces to coordinate code enforcement activities and resources; 
  • Boost capacity of code enforcement and legal departments to enforce relevant laws to hold lienholders accountable or seek remedies to improve housing quality; and, 
  • Connect at-risk homeowners to foreclosure prevention resources.  

This year’s awardees include the cities of Albany, Amsterdam, Auburn, Binghamton, Buffalo, Elmira, Fulton, Geneva, Gloversville, Jamestown, Kingston, Lockport, Mount Vernon, New York City, Newburgh, Niagara Falls, North Tonawanda, Ogdensburg, Olean, Oneonta, Poughkeepsie, Rochester, Rome, Salamanca, Schenectady, Syracuse, Tonawanda City, Troy, and Utica. In addition, the towns and villages of Amherst, Williamsville, Brookhaven, Cheektowaga, Town of Hempstead, Village of Hempstead, Island Park, Freeport, Herkimer, Ilion, Irondequoit, Islip, Monticello, Liberty, Smithtown, Ticonderoga, Tonawanda, Watervliet and West Seneca will benefit from ‘Zombie 2.0.’ 

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. Zombie grantees used funds to bolster legal efforts to enforce the Zombie Law by issuing citations to noncompliant mortgagees or in some cases taking mortgagees to court to enforce the law.  

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) handles the program with funds given by Enterprise Community Partners. LISC issued applications to municipalities based on the number of abandoned residential properties; the proportion of such properties compared to the overall number of residential properties; and its level of general economic distress. 

“Issues of vacant housing, blight and neighborhood integrity are top priorities for both the City of Binghamton and Office of Attorney General,” said Binghamton Mayor Richard C. David. “Our partnership has led to increased resources to fight zombie properties in Binghamton and make meaningful change to improve quality of life for residents. With Zombie 2.0, we’ll build on our recent success and continue to focus on vacant and abandoned buildings. I thank Attorney General James for her leadership and partnership in this effort.”  

“I thank New York Attorney General James for helping the City of Buffalo battle blight,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown. “This $497,000 in funding provided through the Zombies 2.0 grant will help us hold vacant and neglected property owners and managers accountable and improve our neighborhoods.”  

“I just want to take the opportunity to thank Attorney General Letitia James for continuing this worthwhile and successful program throughout the state, and specifically here in Jamestown,” said Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi. “We will continue to build off of the results we’ve seen from round one of the funding, which has helped us combat blight and hold institutions and individuals responsible for the properties they own.” 

"This funding will give the City of Kingston the opportunity to further reduce and prevent zombie properties in our community," said Kingston Mayor Steven T. Noble. "When neighborhoods are improved, so are the lives of the people who reside, work, and play there. We are thankful for Attorney General James' support so that we can continue to make strides for every resident, and the overall revitalization and reinvigoration of Kingston".

“The first grant program for Zombie homes was extremely beneficial in developing a program for abandoned and vacant properties,” said Lockport Mayor Michelle M. Roman. “Through the Zombie 2.0 grant award, Lockport will be able to expand upon the original grant initiative by giving us the ability to identify, repair and resell more vacant homes and abandoned properties. This program improves our neighborhoods and reduces the negative impact of continued neglect. This is an opportunity for the City to work with residents and expand home ownership and increase property values.”    

“So-called zombie homes harm our neighborhoods and the people who live in them and this funding will go a long way toward restoring these types of properties to productive use, and thus create jobs, safer and more vibrant neighborhoods and better educational opportunities,” said Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren. “I would like to thank Attorney General Letitia James for continuing to stand up for Upstate New York and for all of Rochester’s residents.”  

“I would like to thank Attorney General Letitia James and the staff of LISC for allowing the City of Rome to continue its work in combating blight and holding absentee banks and landlords liable for abandoned property,” said Rome Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo. “The second round of funding will allow us to continue strengthening our codes enforcement, hold absentee landlords and banks accountable for neglected property, assist in controlling blight and ultimately transforming neighborhoods.” 

“This critical funding will be instrumental in our continued efforts to revitalize neighborhoods and improve quality of life by reducing the negative effects of blight caused by vacant buildings and zombie properties,” said Schenectady Mayor Gary McCarthy. “We have made great strides in Schenectady combatting blight through a comprehensive approach on demolitions, renovations, and home sales, but there is much more work ahead. I thank Attorney General James for her leadership and support on this central issue facing upstate communities.”

“We are pleased to hear the Zombie Remediation and Prevention Initiative has been expanded to help continue addressing the vacant housing issue here in the City of Syracuse and for other municipalities throughout the state,” said Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh. “Funds from the program will allow our legal enforcement efforts to have a much greater impact. We will be able to continue and expand our successful Blight Busting program and hire additional enforcement staff, increasing the speed and efficiency of compelling blighted property owners to improve their properties and place properties them productive use.”

“The City of Niagara Falls continues to make significant headway in our ongoing efforts against abandoned properties and irresponsible property owners because of investment opportunities made available through our partners in the Attorney General’s Office,” said City of Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster. “Thanks to this latest round of significant funding as part of the Zombies Grant Award program, our city remains on the cutting edge of this critical fight as we seek to revitalize and rebuild our community.”    

"The City of Utica and the Attorney General's Office work for the same residents, and we will be vigilant in protecting our residents and their quality of life," said Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri. "This project and this partnership is an example of that vigilance and it gives us more tools to fight for our residents, our communities, and the beauty of our City and our great state".

"Zombie properties cause property values to decrease, pose a serious risk to public safety and negatively affect neighborhoods, residents and communities," said State Senator Joseph Griffo. This program provides local governments with an important tool that will aid their efforts in tackling blighted, neglected and abandoned properties while also creating stronger communities and improving the quality of life for neighbors and residents.”

“Zombie homes reduce neighborhood property values and threaten the safety of our families, and we must do everything we can to combat this scourge. While the housing crisis happened over a decade ago, upstate communities are still struggling with the consequences of foreclosed and dilapidated properties,” said Assemblymember Marianne Buttenschon. “I want to thank Attorney General James for making this grant program a top priority, which will allow Mohawk Valley municipalities to better address this critical issue.”    

“Cheektowaga is a prime example of how this initiative can be a huge success for municipalities,” said Cheektowaga Supervisor Diane Benczkowski. “We received funding through the first initiative and have already been able to reduce the number of zombie homes in our community by 50%. With Attorney General James expanding this initiative, we will be able to retain code enforcement officers and clerical staff to continue addressing the current zombie properties and help fight off future problems.”   

"This grant allows Amherst to get tough and not tolerate this behavior to continue," said Town of Amherst Supervisor Brian Kulpa. Thank you to Attorney General Letitia James for her commitment to this important issue and to the Town of Amherst."  

 “Zombies homes pose a threat to the quality of life in every community across New York State. One blighted property can have a snowball effect on an otherwise beautiful neighborhood,” said Town of Irondequoit Supervisor Dave Seeley. “This town very much appreciates the support from Attorney General James and LISC. Together, we will execute a comprehensive strategy that will meet this challenge head-on, and work to keep our neighborhoods strong.” 

“The Town of West Seneca is pleased to be awarded a Zombies 2.0 grant to continue the work started with the 2016 Zombie Remediation and Prevention Initiative. Thank you to Attorney General James for continuing this important initiative,” said Town of West Seneca Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan. “Combating unmaintained vacant and abandoned homes has been a focus in West Seneca; this funding will assist with the continued effort to decrease zombie properties throughout our community along with communities across the state.” 

 "We are profoundly grateful to Attorney General James for her vision in funding Zombies 2.0—40 grants for cities, towns and villages across New York State working to reduce residential vacancy and abandonment,” said Helene Caloir, Director, LISC, NYS Housing Stabilization Fund. “The program continues to spark innovation and increase efficiency in how municipalities are able to transform vacant houses into homes again, and return them to the tax rolls. LISC is honored to continue administering this highly successful program.”  

"Abandoned properties are impacting New Yorkers in towns and regions across the state," said Tolga Morawski, Executive Director for the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank. "This grant will enable us to better tackle this issue by providing the resources needed to purchase distressed properties and rehabilitate them for affordable homeownership. I want to thank Attorney General James for recognizing the importance of addressing zombie homes and improving our communities."