As Halloween approaches, Long Island has one fewer zombie home.
A construction crew Tuesday began renovating a two-story Mastic house that was abandoned by its previous owners during foreclosure proceedings, Suffolk County officials said. The Sinclair Street house is the first to be purchased and rehabilitated by the county land bank, which was created in 2013 to buy blighted homes and resell them.
County and Long Island Housing Partnership officials plan to sell the house next year. Land bank officials plan to buy and renovate 10 more homes in Brookhaven, Islip and Babylon towns by the end of 2016. They plan to eventually expand the program to other towns.
A Newsday/News 12 Long Island investigation earlier this year found Long Island towns and villages spent at least $3.2 million last year to clean, board up and demolish thousands of abandoned homes -- including homes in the foreclosure process known as zombie houses.
"This is a problem that is costing municipalities millions of dollars each year," County Executive Steve Bellone said outside the Mastic house. "The land bank is going to be taking on the responsibility of putting these homes back to good use."
The house, which has an in-ground pool and a volleyball court, was purchased from the National Community Stabilization Trust, a Washington-based nonprofit that buys and resells distressed properties, said land bank executive director Amy Keyes. The land bank plans to spend about $200,000 to buy and rehabilitate the house, she said.
The land bank was funded by a $1.9 million grant from the state attorney general's office out of a $25 billion settlement with banks over questionable lending practices. Nassau officials are creating their own land bank.
Officials said they will ensure the Mastic house is not converted to rental apartments. "We are going to have a family in here that can stay on Long Island, and we can improve the community," said Joseph Sanseverino, assistant vice president of the Long Island Housing Partnership.
Neighbors said they were pleased by the renovation. They said the previous owners left about a decade ago and the home since had been occupied by renters before becoming vacant.
"It's a nice, quiet block. You don't want a guy renting out to three or four people, and that's what happened at one time," neighbor Wayne Barker, 70, said. "Things are moving, and I'm happy about that."