City officials are supporting state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s bill to address the issue of abandoned properties to help revitalize neighborhoods and decrease crime.
Local and state officials in Schenectady are pushing for the Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act, which would, in part, urge homeowners to remain in their homes until foreclosure is complete and create a statewide registry of so-called “zombie properties.”
“A single property slated for demolition can, on average, generate expenses for a municipality in excess of $65,000,” Mayor Gary McCarthy said while speaking from a podium in front of 1575 Santa Fe St., a boarded-up zombie property. “These properties often follow a predictable and costly seven-year cycle moving from mildly distressed to blighted or vacant and ultimately in need of demolition.”
McCarthy said breaking that cycle of having rundown abandoned properties adding up in the city is key to neighborhood revitalization. Building Inspector Eric Shilling said there are about 900 vacant properties in the city, including those that are city-owned.
Zombie properties are left vacant after mortgage companies begin foreclosure and the homeowners have left the building. Like 1575 Santa Fe St., which is assessed at $118,000 according to city property records, the foreclosure was never completed and the house has been left in limbo.
Schneiderman’s bill would create a registry to keep track of properties that are in foreclosure and abandoned. It would also work to keep the homes occupied and maintained, either by the homeowner or mortgage lenders, until the foreclosure process is finished.
“The Capital Region has over 1,500 zombie properties,” McCarthy said. “That’s a 50 percent increase from last year.”
Shilling said the legislation would help the city’s code department to keep track of vacant properties, which are privately owned, and ensure public safety.
“We only become aware of these properties when an issue or complaint is filed,” he said. “It’s not an effective battle for us. A registry would help to make our department more effective.”
The zombie properties also prompt many public safety calls, often serve as a shelter for squatters and are sometimes destroyed by fires. Fire Chief Ray Senecal said an abandoned home at 822 State St. was gutted by a fire last year.
Senecal also pointed to two vacant buildings on 3rd Avenue and 6th Avenue, one privately owned and one owned by the city, which were destroyed by suspicious fires within minutes apart early Thursday morning.
The building at 1575 Santa Fe St., the backdrop for the press conference on Monday, has been boarded up for years. Several windows are broken with glass scattered on the front steps and the front yard is growing weeds and collecting garbage.
Also on Monday, Schneiderman was joined by Senate Coalition Co-Leader Jeff Klein and Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein in the Bronx to introduce the newly-expanded Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act.
Assemblyman Phil Steck, D-Colonie, said he’s optimistic that the bill would pass in the state Assembly this legislative session.
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, is a sponsor of the legislation. He said the reforms would help to keep communities safe and vibrant.
“It’s a problem for quality of life and it’s a problem for the city,” Santabarbara said. “These zombie properties leave the local government with the bill to maintain these properties. Once this bill becomes law zombie properties would cease to be a burden on the local taxpayers.”
The Capital Region Land Bank received $3 million from Schneiderman’s office to complete demolition and renovation projects in the city. McCarthy said Schenectady is investing about $10 million in neighborhoods over the next few years.
Schenectady is also partnering with Amsterdam, Gloversville and Troy as part of a $558,000 state grant to develop a pilot program to combat blight. The program would leverage an information sharing service to better collect data regarding vacant homes.