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WNY receiving nearly $2.5M targeting zombie properties

Tom Magnarelli / WRVO Public Media
New York Attorney General Letitia James (at podium) in Utica Wednesday.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James has announced $9 million in grants from her office to address what are called “zombie homes” - or vacant, abandoned homes - across the state. The “Zombies 2.0” program provides funding to municipalities, including nearly $2.5 million to Western New York this round.

The program helps cities and towns create databases of zombie homes, partner with land banks, build affordable homes and repurpose properties. Speaking in Utica on Wednesday, James said more than a decade after the collapse of the housing market, New Yorkers are still feeling and seeing the repercussions.

“We know that these abandoned homes dramatically decrease property values, they burden local governments, they threaten the safety of surrounding communities,” James said.  

Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri said zombie properties have been frustrating to mayor and town supervisors for years. While there’s still more to do, he said the funding is a step in the right direction.

“We’ve seen the ability through the zombie legislation and funding to categorize, to catalog, to get the necessary information to find out where these properties are and have the teeth to go after them,” Palmieri said.

Utica resident Joe Cucharale lives next door to one of these “zombie” properties, a house he said could be 100 years old. The Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank is in the process of rehabilitating the home. Cucharale said while progress is great, he and other neighbors are disappointed the house wasn’t torn down, which he said was the original plan. He is worried about asbestos and lead paint in the home.

“This is a good thing that they do, and it’s a good thing when it works I guess," Cucharale said. "But it’s all in the decisions they make. And in this case, in my opinion and others, they just made the wrong decision.”

Similar scenarios are being felt in municipalities across New York State. Here are the dollars coming to Western New York:

  • Amherst and Williamsville: $200,000
  • Buffalo: $497,000
  • Cheektowaga: $250,000
  • Jamestown: $200,000
  • Lockport: $150,000
  • Niagara Falls: $300,000
  • North Tonawanda and the City of Tonawanda: $$285,000
  • Olean: $100,000
  • Salamanca: $50,000
  • Town of Tonawanda: $275,000
  • West Seneca: $150,00

“This $497,000 in funding provided through the Zombies 2.0 grant will help us hold vacant and neglected property owners and managers accountable and improve our neighborhoods,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. 
“Cheektowaga is a prime example of how this initiative can be a huge success for municipalities,” said Cheektowaga Supervisor Diane Benczkowski. “We received funding through the first initiative and have already been able to reduce the number of zombie homes in our community by 50%."

“Through the Zombie 2.0 grant award, Lockport will be able to expand upon the original grant initiative by giving us the ability to identify, repair and resell more vacant homes and abandoned properties," said  Lockport Mayor Michelle Roman. "This is an opportunity for the city to work with residents and expand home ownership and increase property values.”? ?

Funding for the program comes from a $500 million settlement in 2018, between the Attorney General’s Office and the Royal Bank of Scotland, over the bank’s deceptive practices and misrepresentations to investors.

WBFO's Marian Hetherly contributed to this story.

Tom Magnarelli is a freelance reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area.
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