The City of Tonawanda has received a $150,000 state grant to deal with abandoned houses and is forming a task force to identify and crack down on zombie properties that are in foreclosure and contributing to the blight in the city.
Mayor Rick Davis said the city is looking for community-minded people with a background in real estate or code enforcement to serve on a Distressed Properties Task Force. The task force will meet monthly to create a landlord and a foreclosure registry. It will also assist the city in looking at data and identifying housing trends and foreclosure-prone areas of the city.
Interested residents should submit a letter of interest and qualifications to the City of Tonawanda, 200 Niagara St., Tonawanda, N.Y., 14150.
"It will be nice to get their level of expertise in the city working with us to combat this problem," said Davis of the planned task force.
He said the city will be gathering data throughout the summer.
"(Using the data) we can look at where housing prices are going up and where residents are rehabbing their homes and in what area of the city this is the opposite," said Davis. "We don't know if we have a big problem. I think every town and city in Western New York is running into this problem. That's why we pushed so hard for this grant – to quantify what we don't know."
Zombie houses are in the foreclosure process and have been vacated by their owner, but banks have not taken title. Often these homes fall into disrepair and become havens for rodents and squatters.
State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman announced this past summer $13 million in grants to fight zombie properties in Western New York. The grants ranged from $75,000 to $350,000, depending on the community's size and the scope of its problem.
The funds for the state program come from a $3.2 billion settlement agreement between Schneiderman and Morgan Stanley.
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.
Davis said as soon as the program was announced the city was contacted by a homeowner facing foreclosure who was looking for help. He said the Western New York Law Center is assisting the city to help residents remain in their homes.
He said a lot of people think that as soon as they receive a foreclosure notice they have to vacate a house, but it can take years before a bank can foreclose on the property. In the meantime those houses sit in limbo. Davis said if the city is able to keep families in their homes they will continue to be maintained.