Members of the Task Force on Vacant and Abandoned Properties laid out the recommendations during a press conference. The suggestions focus on three areas:
- Prevention of vacancies;
- Identification and maintenance of vacant properties;
- Rehabilitation of vacant properties.
"We know that we have our work cut out for us," says Rebecca Case Caico, a senior attorney with Empire Justice Center who co-chairs the task force with County Clerk Adam Bello.
Bello formed the task force earlier this year after Governor Andrew Cuomo appointed him to the vacant clerk seat. The idea grew out of Bello's experience as Irondequoit supervisor: he and other town officials implemented a vacant and abandoned property registry. They learned that the town had hundreds of the properties.
"This was one of the single most concerning and frustrating problems facing homeowners," Bello says.
To prevent vacancies, the report suggests providing more funding for mortgage default counseling programs, connecting homeowners with free legal assistance, and developing partnerships between mortgage default counselors and local governments. These partners would reach out to homeowners in the early stages of default, the report says.
The report also calls for local officials to advocate for the exclusion of delinquent, low-value homes at risk of becoming vacant or abandoned from HUD or Federal Housing Finance Agency loan sales to private investors. The loan sales can complicate efforts to sell the property.
The report also recommends making sure that housing allowances for public assistance recipients better align with fair-market rents.
The report encourages greater information-sharing to help local governments identify and monitor vacant and abandoned properties, some of which is already happening. It also says that the task force should help local government employees learn how to access and use the state's forthcoming vacant and abandoned property registry.
As for rehabilitation of the properties, the report recommends some technical fixes to mortgage and tax foreclosure law that it says would simplify the ability of local and county government to take title to vacant and abandoned properties. The municipalities could then transfer the properties to a nonprofit to rehab and sell them, or to a new owner.
The Monroe County task force on zombie properties issued its first round of recommendations for local, state, and federal governments and agencies today.