Niskayuna partners with land bank, county to address zombie properties

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NISKAYUNA — Niskayuna is partnering with the Capital Region Land Bank and Schenectady County on a pilot program designed to swiftly address zombie properties in the town.

During the Niskayuna Town Board meeting on Nov. 17, the board unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with the county and land bank that will see the parties collaborate to rectify vacant and abandoned properties in the town.

The state amended the Real Property Tax Law in 2020 to allow zombie properties to be foreclosed on after one year of tax delinquency instead of four years. The change was implemented this year.

Richard Ruzzo, Land Bank Board chairman and a member of the Schenectady County Legislature, said the pilot program will allow the land bank to assist Niskayuna in navigating the state’s vacant building registry.

“It’s really about quality of life,” Ruzzo said. “If you get a hole in the roof and it sits fallow for two years, then that property potentially becomes completely ruined, versus in one year if someone can get in there and move their family in, they can turn the house back on. That’s not only productive for the community, but a productive revenue stream for the municipality providing services to it.”

The Capital Region Land Bank is administered by Metroplex as part of the county’s unified economic development team.

“I think Metroplex and the county are eager to work with us and this is the first time that a partnership of this kind has come about,” Niskayuna Town Supervisor Jaime Puccioni said. “This is new legislation and the state changed the law from four years to one year to turn around vacant and abandoned properties. So our partnership with Metroplex enables us to utilize their resources and address zombie properties much quicker.”

Under the terms of the agreement, the land bank will provide legal support and technical assistance to help the town’s code enforcement staff to register properties as vacant or abandoned.

“The land bank’s mission is to remove blight and restore and revitalize neighborhoods,” Ruzzo said on Monday. “We are interpreting and using the changes to the [state’s] Real Property Tax Law to accommodate for a more expedited handling by municipalities for properties that are abandoned. It used to be in New York state that you’d have to wait four annual tax cycles before a municipality could start the foreclosure procedures. With four years of properties lying unoccupied with no heat and no one is mowing the lawn, that’s a pretty significant drag on quality of life and property values, no matter what neighborhood you’re in.”

During the board’s Nov. 17 meeting, it also set a public hearing for Dec. 13 for a proposed local law that would amend the town code pertaining to vacant building registration to more closely align the town code with state law.

Ruzzo said the land bank has been in discussion with Niskayuna since the summer over a potential partnership regarding vacant properties. The legislator noted that the town only has a handful of zombie properties within its borders.

“It’s a pretty low number, but nonetheless, one is too many,” Ruzzo said. “If you live in a neighborhood and the house next door to you is clearly abandoned and in the middle of the summer you have to mow the lawn, that’s a quality of life impact.”

If the pilot program proves successful in Niskayuna, the county hopes to roll out the program in additional municipalities.

“From a county perspective, we’d like to make sure that we’ve measured and created the recipe right,” Ruzzo said. “There’s no sense getting multiple municipalities involved right from the get-go only to find out, ‘We needed to send a letter to the comptroller first,’ or whatever the issue may be. So we’ll do it with Niskayuna first and we’ll let them go through a foreclosing process and make sure everything works and then we’ll roll out additional towns.”

Categories: News, News, Schenectady County, Your Niskayuna

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