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Long Island

Brookhaven, other towns tap into $3M in grants for zombie aid

"Zombie" homes, like this one in Wantagh seen on June 7, 2016, are being dealt with by towns using millions in state grants. Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

More than a dozen Long Island municipalities are starting to dip into a pool of state money they received to battle vacant homes in disrepair.

Sixteen communities were notified in October that they were being given a total of $3.1 million from state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to help them fight back against the proliferation of “zombie” homes — abandoned, derelict houses that are stuck in the yearslong mire of the state’s foreclosure process. The money — part of more than $13 million issued statewide — comes from a $3.2 billion settlement with Morgan Stanley over problems with mortgage-backed bonds.

A 2015 Newsday report found that Long Island led the state and ranked among the top 10 regions in the nation in zombie houses, with thousands of dilapidated properties from Levittown to the Hamptons.

The grants are being managed by the nonprofit Local Initiatives Support Corporation. The money is being dispersed in payments over one or two years, depending on the municipality’s plan, said Helene Caloir, the organization’s director of the state fund. The money began being distributed to some municipalities in February, she said. Municipalities must use some of the funding to connect at-risk homeowners to services so they can avoid foreclosure. But the money can be redirected to other areas, such as code enforcement, based on need, Caloir said.

“It’s meant to be flexible,” she said. “The point is for the municipalities to figure out what they need to do to get the information out and carry out the enforcement that’s right for them.”

Six towns each received more than $300,000. Huntington Town last month was given $112,500 of the $350,000 it was granted. Of that, the town has appropriated $39,500 for an outreach consultant and for additional hours for part-time assistant town attorneys. Another $73,000 is slated for technology, including software to help the officials better identify and track “at risk” properties.

In Hempstead Town, of the $160,000 received so far from a $300,000 grant, $85,000 is helping pay for two new building inspectors, while $40,000 was spent on software and technology, and another $35,000 spent on outreach, research and other costs.

Brookhaven Town, which has some of the most acute abandoned home issues on Long Island, has received $176,500 of a $350,000 grant, spending $22,651 so far. Of that, $10,000 has gone toward foreclosure counseling; $7,800 for engineering and inspections, and $4,851 for a townwide mailing on Brookhaven’s vacant home registry and available foreclosure help.

Brookhaven Supervisor Edward P. Romaine said that he is grateful for the grant and that it’s “a helpful first step,” but said more needs to be done. Zombie properties steal equity from surrounding houses, he said, and he wishes the town could gain possession of the homes and partner with organizations to renovate them before they fall into such disrepair that they must be demolished.

“We need a procedure where these houses can be transferred before they are further cannibalized,” Romaine said. “This is a plague on my town. We’re overwhelmed.”

Funding the fixes

Brookhaven Town

$350,000 award /$176,500 disbursed

Huntington Town

$350,000 award /$112,500 disbursed

Smithtown Town

$350,000 award/ $175,000 disbursed

Oyster Bay Town

$349,173 award / None disbursed

Islip Town

$339,110 award /$97,275 disbursed

Hempstead Town

$300,00 award / $160,000 disbursed

Southampton Town

$175,000 award / $90,500 disbursed

N. Hempstead Town

$159,000 award / $79,500 disbursed

Freeport

$152,000 award / None disbursed

Mastic Beach

$149,628 award / $74,814 disbursed

Lindenhurst

$110,300 award / $75,150 disbursed

Valley Stream

$100,000 award / $50,000 disbursed

City of Long Beach

$99,770 award / $59,335 disbursed

City of Glen Cove

$90,000 award / $46,875 disbursed

Amityville

$74,895 award / None disbursed

Hempstead Village

$50,000 award / $32,500 disbursed

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