The City of Peekskill is one of 100 communities statewide that was invited by the state attorney general to apply for a $100,000 grant to help combat vacant and abandoned homes that are not maintained during prolonged foreclosure proceedings.
Earlier this summer, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced $13 million was being made available from a $3.2 billion settlement with Morgan Stanley to the municipalities with the biggest problem of so-called “zombie homes” under a program entitled The Zombie Remediation and Prevention Initiative.
“Too many communities across this state have been hit hard by the proliferation of zombie properties,” Schneiderman said. “This new grant initiative puts tools directly in the hands of towns and cities across the state to reverse course, rebuild from the foreclosure crisis, and put zombie homes in the rear-view mirror.”
According to Peekskill Planning Director Jean Friedman, Peekskill has identified approximately 75 homes that could potentially fall under the parameters of the program.
“The main thrust is to find the people and keep them in their house,” she said. “It’s not easy to find the people.”
Statewide, there are at least 16,000 “zombie homes,” Schneiderman said. Studies have shown that each zombie property reduces the value of all homes within 750 feet by one percent. Another component of Schneiderman’s initiative is to hold banks accountable for their role in the housing crash a few years ago where inflated mortgages with high interest rates were approved for homeowners who didn’t qualify.
“Right now it doesn’t bother them (banks) and it doesn’t bother the people that have walked out,” Peekskill Councilwoman Drew Claxton remarked during a recent work session. “It bothers the neighborhood.”
“Banks don’t generally want to get involved. They let them languish,” City Manager Richard Liens said. “They don’t act on them. It’s not unique to Peekskill.”
Friedman noted in December a law will take effect that will require banks to maintain homes and properties in the foreclosure stage that have been abandoned or they will be subject to fines.
Mayor Frank Catalina expressed skepticism with Schneiderman’s program, calling it “a publicity stunt.”
“This isn’t really addressing anything. If this grant delays it (the process) we should be against it. We want to speed it up,” he said. “It is what it is.”
Despite some of the Common Council’s reservations with the grant, Councilwoman Kathy Talbot said the real issue at hand was trying to solve the growing problem of “zombie homes.”
“This is a problem that has been going on and on and this is not something that’s going to address it,” Talbot said. “The question is what are we going to do? What is the solution?”