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Razing of house scores a win against flipping

Local housing activists were happy Wednesday following the demolition of a federally owned, abandoned, dilapidated house across the street from the renovated Emerson High School building -- now Harvey Austin Elementary School.

"It's right across the street from a school. It had to come down," said Michele Johnson, a member of Buffalo's Anti-Flipping Task Force.

"This home probably was going to be flipped to an investor for $2,000 or $3,000," she said.

Illegal flipping involves buying real estate cheaply and then selling it at an inflated price without making repairs. Often, the property is bought and sold by out-of-towners.

The two-story house at 226 Koons Ave. was poised for flipping. It came under the ownership of the Department of Housing and Urban Development following a Federal Housing Administration foreclosure process about a year ago, officials said.

HUD was in the process of selling the two-story home online to a buyer in Long Island until the task force brought the building's deplorable condition to the agency's attention.

"The back half of the roof was gone. The gutters and eaves were rotted. There was peeling paint," Johnson said.

"It had become a shell and had become cost-prohibitive to try to save," said Stephen Banko III, HUD's field office director.

The federal agency stopped the pending sale in May and then started the process of getting a demolition permit.

"We told the Long Island guy the house was more work than he bargained for and he would end up in Housing Court," Banko said. "We really owe [the task force] a lot of credit. When they called our attention to the condition of the property, we tried to do something to make sure we didn't add to the problem."

The fact that HUD reacted so quickly was a positive development, Johnson said.

In the past it had been hard to persuade the agency -- which had been selling to flippers for years -- to take down houses, she said. But these days, HUD is more apt to listen and to react and is being more conscientious about what it's selling and the damage the house does to the neighborhood, Johnson said.

"They're really trying. They're opening up and trying," she added. "Working with them is better than working against them. They have billions of dollars."

With about 60 houses in the city, HUD is not a main contributor to the city's flipping crisis, officials said.

"We're a small player in terms of sales and demolitions," Banko said.

An abandoned HUD-owned house on Breckenridge is scheduled for demolition by the end of the year.

Two city-owned boarded-up homes stand on either side of the demolished house on Koons.

e-mail: dswilliams@buffnews.com

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