Vacant and abandoned houses decrease value and safety of surrounding properties
Erie County Clerk Michael P. “Mickey” Kearns, a long-time advocate in the fight against vacant and abandoned zombie homes, met recently with Town of Grand Island Supervisor John Whitney and Code Enforcement Officer Ronald Milks to discuss how the Erie County Clerk’s ZOMBIES Initiative can provide technical assistance and outreach services for municipalities and communities facing zombie foreclosures.
The Erie County Clerk’s ZOMBIES Initiative is a collaboration between Kearns’ office and the Western New York Law Center. According to Kearns, the mission of the task force is to share ideas among key stakeholders, distribute strategies with proven results, identify obstacles, and create new ways of dealing with zombie properties. With the support and data from the county clerk’s office, the task force is able to identify those at risk for foreclosure sooner so that efforts can be made to prevent zombie properties.
“A zombie home is a vacant property in which the homeowner moves out of due to mortgage default and threat of foreclosure,” explained Joe Kelemen, Esq., executive director of the WNY Law Center. “The home becomes a ‘zombie’ because the bank has not completed the foreclosure process and, in many some cases, the bank decides to abandon the foreclosure years after determining it no longer wants the property.”
According to Kearns, the ZOMBIES Initiative is defined as: Zero tolerance, Open lines of communication, Municipal participation, Bank accountability, Investment in neighborhoods, Engage and educate communities, and Solutions.
Kearns and the ZOMBIES Initiative Team meet weekly with supervisors, mayors and code enforcement officers in cities, towns and villages throughout Erie County to provide assistance and resources to municipalities and communities with zombie foreclosures before blight becomes an issue.
Kearns added, “Unfortunately, this allows the banks to reap the tax, insurance and accounting benefits from documenting a loss. In turn, the zombies haunt former homeowners who find themselves legally liable for properties they did not even realize they still owned. All the while, the zombies bring down property values and negatively impact entire communities.”
To learn more about the Erie County Clerk’s ZOMBIES initiative or report a vacant and abandoned home in your community, go to eriecountyclerkzombies.com or call 716-858-6985.