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Land bank announces completion of first ‘zombie’ house renovation in Lackawanna

The handsome, yellow brick ranch at Abbott and Fisher roads in Lackawanna’s Second Ward had seen better days. After seven years of vacancy and neglect, it was no longer livable.

But the house was reclaimed by the Buffalo Erie-Niagara Land Improvement Corp., which Friday announced the completion of a $45,000 renovation. It is a first-of-its-kind revitalization effort that seeks to spare uninhabited and unattended properties from wrecker’s ball so they can be placed back on the real estate market – for more than double the investment.

“It was one of the properties that you often hear about, the ‘zombie’ properties that do not have anyone living in them, that are so distressed that they can’t be sold and are truly a drain on the local market,” said Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz at a news conference inside the newly renovated house.

“It was allowed to rot and decay and become such an eyesore that it could not be sold. It shouldn’t have been demolished, because there were good bones in this building,” Poloncarz added.

The land bank is the mechanism by which the county was able to reclaim the two-bedroom house. Back in 2012, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo signed a law that removed barriers for counties across the state in their quest to take control of foreclosed, vacant properties and get them back on the tax rolls. That same year, State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman initiated a $33 million funding mechanism that arose out of a multibillion-dollar settlement with mortgage companies in the aftermath of the foreclosure crisis that burdened communities across the state with blighted and abandoned properties.

In the first round of funding, which took place in October 2013, $13 million was disbursed to eight land banks, one of which was the Buffalo Erie-Niagara Land Improvement Corp., which Friday announced that the Abbott Road property is the first of its bank of reclaimed houses to be renovated and made ready to be sold to a qualified moderate-income buyer.

“This story represents what our land bank is supposed to be about – eliminating blight and improving neighborhoods one house at a time,” said Deputy County Executive Maria Whyte, who also chairs the board of the land bank.

“The impacts will be significant and long-lasting,” Whyte added.

As a result of the land bank’s efforts, Poloncarz said the former zombie property at 1745 Abbott will see new life, and so will the surrounding community.

“A family will shop at the local restaurants, whether it’s Pat’s Submarines or the Nite Cap. A family will eventually send their children to Lackawanna Junior and Senior High School right behind us,” he said.

Jocelyn Gordon, executive director of the land bank, said there are plans to renovate eight more reclaimed properties across the county this year, with the expectation that those efforts will be doubled in 2016.

“Our mission includes returning property we acquire to productive use and leaving property in better shape than we found it,” Gordon said.

Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski also attended Friday’s event.

“It means a lot to me that the city is moving forward and that the county has a new avenue to stop blight in its tracks and help out both the homeowners ... and the people interested in collecting taxes,” he said.

email: hmcneil@buffnews.com