Kearns redoubles attack on 'zombie properties'

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Kearns this week released a "Bank Shame Campaign" report that matches banks to vacant and abandoned properties.

Kearns redoubles attack on 'zombie properties'

Kearns redoubles attack on 'zombie properties'
May 13, 2016

Assemblyman Mickey Kearns is continuing his push to reduce blight in Western New York, with his office releasing a report on banks that own so-called “zombie properties” in the region.

The Buffalo Democrat’s office, with the help of the Western New York Law Center, has compiled a list of properties with abandoned or incomplete foreclosures, often referred to as “zombie properties,” as part of his Bank Shame Campaign. The report lists 559 properties – there are an estimated 2,000 such properties in Erie County  and the associated bank or lending agency, with the data compiled through a Freedom of Information Law request filed with the state Department of Financial Services and research conducted by Kearns’ office and the law center.

Kearns is encouraging homeowners living near the listed properties to lodge formal complaints with DFS and call the lending institutions to complain.

“The No. 1 impediment to getting support is linking the banks with a property,” Kearns said. “Many of the banks haven’t been forthcoming.”

The report also stresses that abandoned foreclosures are not simply a city problem. While the city of Buffalo has the largest amount of listed properties by far at 183, a full two-thirds of the houses are in the suburbs, according to the report.

Kearns said that communities across the state  urban, suburban and rural  are being held back by problem properties that should be taken care of by banks who “hide behind the process” in neglecting homes they are foreclosing on.

“You usually think of issues of urban blight and abandonment in cities,” Kearns said. “It’s happening right in neighborhoods and the cause of that blight is the banks.”

Abandoned and incomplete foreclosures have long plagued cities across upstate, and the entire Rust Belt for that matter, with depopulation creating a glut of housing and deep poverty setting in for many of the cities as jobs left the state.

Efforts to combat the problem have been ongoing, and major state players have taken on the issue in recent years. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman introduced legislation that would make banks responsible for securing and maintaining properties earlier in the foreclosure process in 2014, but the bill has failed to gain traction in the state Legislature, even after a renewed push during last year’s session. His office has not made any public push to get the bill passed so far this year.

Last year Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration struck a deal with 11 banks to adopt a set of best practices that would have them take responsibility for the maintenance and security of the property earlier in the foreclosure process and set up a statewide registry, maintained by DFS, of the properties.

Kearns has also submitted a package of bills aimed at addressing the issue. He has a Republican Senate co-sponsor in Rob Ortt on one bill and believes this is a bipartisan issue that will be supported in both chambers, he said.

While Cuomo’s best practices agreement is a step in the right direction it is not enforceable and only covers a handful of lending institutions, which is why those solutions need to be put into law, he added.

“We’ve tried the best practice agreement to try to get the banks to comply,” Kearns said. They’re not going to comply. We’re going to have to force them to comply, to be accountable and responsible.”

You can read the report below:

Kearns Bank Shame Report by Justin McCarthy Sondel

Justin Sondel
is a freelance reporter in Buffalo.