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Foss: Zombies lurk in Schoharie County as well

Foss: Zombies lurk in Schoharie County as well

Vacant houses a problem in communities large and small
Foss: Zombies lurk in Schoharie County as well
Photographer: Shutterstock

When I hear the term zombie properties, I think of a city street filled with vacant houses. 

After all, when we hear about zombie properties, it's usually because we're discussing the blight and abandonment that afflicts upstate cities such as Albany, Schenectady and Troy. 

Unfortunately, zombie properties can be found most anywhere -- even in small towns and rural villages that might seem unaffected by the issue. 

This depressing reality explains why a "Blighted Property Selection Committee" has formed in Schoharie County, with the goal of addressing the county's zombie property problem. 

It's a worthwhile endeavor -- smart and forward-thinking. 

Rather than ignore a problem and risk having it fester and worsen, Schoharie County has elected to do something about it.

And while the county's zombie properties aren't as concentrated or noticeable as they are in other, more populated places, they are still a problem. 

Dealing with them will benefit the entire county, as derelict properties are fixed up and returned to the tax rolls or torn down and removed from the landscape altogether. 

"The blight here is not something that's huge in certain neighborhoods or very obvious," Steve Wilson, Schoharie County Administrator, told me. "But it's around our villages. It's all over." 

Some of the properties became vacant during the flooding caused by Tropical Storms Irene and Lee six years ago and have never been fixed up. 

Others are vacant as a result of foreclosure, although Wilson pointed out that the flood and foreclosure are often linked, because the flood, and the high cost of recovery, often led to financial distress. 

There's a sad story behind every zombie property. 

The most common stories are of property owners who got in over their heads, or who suffered a calamity that caused them to fall behind on their mortgage or property tax payments. 

What the Blighted Property Selection Committee aims to do is to take some of these sad stories and replace them with something more positive -- with single-family homes, or green space, or a park. 

The committee is asking municipalities to recommend problem properties for rehabilitation, demolition, deconstruction or stabilization. 

Once these recommendations have been made, the committee will review them and submit those deemed most promising to the the Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank, which formed in 2016 with the goal of returning abandoned and neglected buildings to productive use. 

"Essentially, the land bank would like to acquire properties for less than $5,000, either through a donation or a low-cost situation," explained Jerrine Corallo, who serves as vice chair of the Blighted Property Selection Committee. 

"I look at the land bank as another tool for economic development," said Wilson, who also serves on the land bank board. "In my mind, this is part of our larger economic development strategy." 

The Blighted Property Selection Committee represents a partnership between SALT Development, the flood-recovery organization that in recent years has shifted its focus to economic development, and the Schoharie County Office of Community Development Services. 

The expectation is that the properties acquired by the land bank will have clearly defined goals for how they will be used after they are fixed up or demolished. Properties located in the flood plain won't be rebuilt. 

Corallo said that the first round of projects will be small: Two rehabilitations, and one demolition. 

That might not sound like a lot, especially if you're accustomed to the plethora of vacant buildings in Schenectady, Albany and Troy. 

But for a small, rural county, it could make a big difference. 

Reach Gazette columnist Sara Foss at [email protected]. Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper's. Her blog is at https://dailygazette.com/blogs/thinking-it-through.

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