Vacant and deteriorating homes are the bedbugs of neighborhoods. They suck the lifeblood out of what were once strong communities and start to break down the pride of residents.
The problem begins with a homeowner facing financial difficulty stemming from job loss, medical bills, divorce or just overspending. The problem hits the neighborhood when the mortgage holder begins to foreclose on a property but fails to take legal possession of it. Such properties sit and waste away, “zombie” homes rotting thanks to a stalled foreclosure process.
That the process can drag on for years is unacceptable.
That’s why the Erie County Legislature did the right thing by unanimously adopting a resolution asking for a state law that would enable local leaders to shorten the foreclosure timetable for bank-owned vacant homes.
Legislator Patrick Burke, D-Buffalo, sponsored the local resolution. Assemblyman Michael Kearns, D-Buffalo, and Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, have proposed bills in the State Legislature.
This is one of a flurry of bills targeting blight. It is designed to prevent banks from skirting the 2016 Foreclosure Relief Act, which requires lenders to maintain and secure residential property if there is reason to believe it is vacant and abandoned. Some, but not all, banks have no problem complying with the Foreclosure Relief Act, while others have found a loophole. Instead of complying, these banks have walked away from properties and have stopped paying property taxes. The result is properties left vacant while municipalities wait for two years of delinquent taxes to pile up before tax foreclosure can begin.
What happens is these homes just sit and sit. Banks are reluctant to take full possession of properties because they become responsible for maintaining them and getting them ready to sell. When that’s the case, Kearns pointed out, banks could hand the houses over to Habitat for Humanity. Doing so would help a good cause and provide needed housing stock.
The proposed legislation shortens the foreclosure process, reducing it from the typical two years to one year. Occupied properties would be exempt from the shortened foreclosure timetable.
Wiping out blight will take a concerted and collective effort on many fronts. Preventing zombie homes will help.