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New York State offers $13 million in community grants to fight zombie homes

Fifteen Western New York communities – including Amherst, Buffalo and Cheektowaga – can apply for grants from a $13 million pool of state funds aimed at tackling “zombie homes.”

The communities are among a hundred across the state identified this week by state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman.

The grants will range from $75,000 to $350,000.

Awards will depend on the municipality’s size, scope of its zombie problem, track record and capacity for addressing the problem, according to Schneiderman’s office.

Zombie homes are properties stuck in incomplete foreclosure. After homeowners move out, the homes often fall into disrepair, dragging down neighbors’ property values and attracting crime.

The funds for the state program, called the Zombie Remediation and Prevention Initiative, come from a $3.2 billion settlement agreement between Schneiderman and Morgan Stanley. The communities must submit applications by Aug. 16, and the awards will be made by early September. The Local Initiatives Support Corp. is running the grant program.

Schneiderman’s office said the funds will bolster communities’ capacity for housing code enforcement, tracking and monitoring vacant properties, and legal enforcement. The grants will also help communities make sure banks and mortgage companies comply with state and federal law. Communities receiving grants will have to develop programs to help homeowners avoid foreclosure.

Assemblyman Michael Kearns, D-Buffalo, has put a spotlight on the zombie problem locally. He praised the grant program and suggested communities collaborate on their efforts to maximize the impact.

“I just want to make sure it’s an opportunity not wasted,” he said.

Kearns suggested one way to effectively spend the funds: Track homeowners who have moved out to help ease the sale of homes stuck in foreclosure.

The communities picked to apply for the grants are those with populations of least 5,000. They also have at least a hundred vacant properties.

The local communities are Buffalo, Cheektowaga, Town of Tonawanda, Amherst/Williamsville, Town/Village of Hamburg, West Seneca, Niagara Falls, City of Lockport, North Tonawanda, Salamanca, Olean, Jamestown, Dunkirk, Medina and Albion.

email: mglynn@buffnews.com

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