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Agency seeks action on vacant homes

The Municipal Bank Bond Agency -- a state agency charged with revitalizing neighborhoods -- holds tax liens on 1,499 vacant properties in some of Buffalo's most deteriorating neighborhoods.

The municipal tax lien program was created in 2003 to purchase delinquent properties from municipalities across the state, providing them a source of revenue and a way to resolve the problem of delinquencies, said agency spokeswoman Tiffany Berns.

"Either get the back taxes paid or move the properties onto auction so future homeowners can buy them," she said. "We feel these properties have great potential."

Also participating in the program are Binghamton, Syracuse and Plattsburgh, cities where the success rate in resolving liens has ranged from 50 to 80 percent, Berns said.

However, there seems to be a problem in Buffalo, where many of the 1,499 properties remain vacant. Many have been cited for housing code violations, and some cases are now pending.

"To that end, we have been pursuing new options to resolve these properties in Buffalo. One is working with brokers to garner more interest in these properties. We've had discussions with the City of Buffalo. The fact that the program has not been as successful here is something that's being considered," said Berns, pointing out that homeowners are responsible for maintaining the dwellings and that the city is responsible for code enforcement.

About 115 of the problem properties are in the Niagara District, according to members of PUSH Buffalo-People United for Sustainable Housing, a resident-based community group on the West Side. On Thursday, PUSH launched a campaign to urge the state to do something with the neglected properties.

"These properties are frozen because the MBBA has foreclosed on them or it's holding the lien. Either way, the houses are just sitting there," said Aaron Bartley, PUSH executive director.

The impact of the neglected properties on a city the size of Buffalo is enormous, Bartley added, eroding the quality of life by attracting the drug trade and vandals and depreciating housing values.

Meanwhile, state officials said they will continue trying to resolve the liens in Buffalo and provide opportunities to revitalize communities here.

"So far, 120 taxpayers have filed for bankruptcy, which by law protects them from having their properties foreclosed upon," Berns said. "To date, we've been successful initiating foreclosures against approximately 400 properties. The next step for about 300 of those is the auction."

e-mail: dswilliams@buffnews.com

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