Nearly 3,200 Buffalo homeowners and 437 business owners will see their properties placed on the auction block if they fail to pay back taxes and fees within five weeks.
City officials are imploring property owners to set up payment plans or take other steps to avoid having their homes, commercial buildings or empty lots sold to the highest bidders at a foreclosure auction. The three-day sale will begin Oct. 26 in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center.
Assessment officials released updated figures Friday showing that more than 5,200 properties are delinquent in paying either property taxes, garbage user fees, water bills or sewer rents.
The figure includes 1,573 vacant lots and more than 1,600 properties that were offered at prior auctions but weren't sold.
A 2008 study found that Buffalo had the third-highest housing vacancy rate in the nation. If more than 3,000 properties are put up for sale next month, it would be the city's largest auction in history and could compound the vacancy problem. Last year, 2,960 properties were offered for sale. But unlike the upcoming auction, last year's roster did not include properties with newly delinquent water bill accounts.
Assessment and Taxation Commissioner Martin F. Kennedy said he expects the number of properties in foreclosure to "dramatically decrease" as people write last-minute checks, set up payment plans or obtain court orders to block the sales.
"We don't want see anybody go on the street at all. Not one person," he said. "We're bending over backwards to make sure that doesn't happen."
Mayor Byron W. Brown delivered a similar message, announcing that the city will once again work with local courts and outside groups to provide help to people who are at risk of losing properties.
Assistance sessions will be held on Oct. 21, 22 and 23 in the Erie County Court Building at 25 Delaware Ave. The city will join forces with the Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo and other local organizations. Senior Erie County Judge Michael L. D'Amico also will be involved in the sessions, which aim to guide property owners through the process of avoiding foreclosure.
Michele Johnson, a neighborhood activist and co-founder of Buffalo's Anti-Flipping Task Force, said she's hopeful that at least half of the property owners who owe the city money will seek assistance.
"I wish so many people would stop stressing themselves out by waiting until the last minute to make arrangements," said Johnson.
The city already has mailed several notices to every delinquent taxpayer, said Robyn Tisdale, Buffalo's associate tax clerk. Another notice is scheduled to be sent Sept. 25.
For more information on obtaining help in avoiding foreclosure, call the city's tax office at 851-5734.
For the list of foreclosures, go to www.city-buffalo.com, click on "city services," then "property information." Click on "Inrem 43 Property Foreclosure Information."