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New state initiative offers info, resources on zombie homes

A vacant zombie home in the City of Buffalo is nearly covered with unkept brush.
Mike Desmond

New Yorkers are getting some help on "zombie" housing from Columbia Law School and its students.

Those vacant and decaying buildings of vague ownership are a problem everywhere in the state, as local governments gradually admit there are problems.

Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns has spent decades on the issue, starting from issues with one home in his South Buffalo neighborhood, to pushing a new law to regulate the problem while in the state Assembly, to helping local government officials figure out what to do.

Now, Columbia Law students have set up a new website with information to help small governments and communities. It's called the New York State Zombies Initiative.

New York State Zombies Initiative website: http://nyszombiesinitiative.com/

Kearns said it's a big deal that the Manhattan law school is involved.

"We started our partnership with Columbia Law School. Recently, we had a statewide training and I had the opportunity to go to Columbia, host that on behalf of Erie County and we worked with other municipalities, elected officials, code enforcement officers," he said.

Western New York Law Center Vacant and Abandoned Property Program Director Kate Lockhart said small governments, especially, need that help.

"Zombie properties tend to be very complicated, just in their nature, and every one is slightly different. So providing resources in a centralized space was really the whole goal of this, to make this easily accessible for municipalities and, hopefully, a resource to answer some of the basic questions."

Kearns and Columbia Law are working with the Western New York Law Center and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation and their long experience on the zombie homes. He said the homes can be found in any community.

"Working with the banks, we had two demolitions in Clarence, New York. We had a million-dollar zombie in Clarence. So there are zombies in Amherst. There are zombies in Lackawanna, West Seneca, South Buffalo," Kearns said. "But, you know what's really positive is, when the municipalities work together — the code enforcement officers, the banks — and we find solutions to problems."