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Longtime Wyandanch resident 'frustrated' by boarded-up houses in area

Edward Gay has lived in his Wyandanch home

Edward Gay has lived in his Wyandanch home for 43 years. Now he has vacant, boarded up homes on both sides and across the street. He is in front of one of the vacant homes, with his house behind him, with another vacant home beyond that, Friday, March 6, 2015. Squatters have occupied or stolen the copper out of a number of homes on his block. Photo Credit: Newsday/ Chuck Fadely

Ed Gay Sr. sees plywood-covered windows and doors in every direction when he steps onto his front porch.

There are boarded-up houses on either side of his neatly maintained Wyandanch home, two more across the street and another two within view down the block. Surrounded by blight, Gay's neighborhood has become a microcosm of Long Island's growing struggle with neglected, abandoned houses.

"I'm very frustrated," he said. "It's just a mess."

Gay, 77, a retired head bus mechanic, said the deteriorating homes on his street have been problems for years. He said men wielded shotguns and machetes at one abandoned house and squatters nearly burned down another. On either side of his house there always seems to be loud music and cursing, and a steady stream of people coming and going from the homes.

On a recent day, the sheet of plywood covering the front door of a home next door blew open. A hole just below a window facing Gay's house has become another entry into the structure.

"You name it, every kind of animal has been in there -- raccoons, squirrels, everything," he said. "I can't even sit in my bedroom without seeing that hole."

Gay, a Korean War veteran, bought his house 43 years ago and still remembers the names of all his original neighbors. Back then, kids played in the street, he said. There were weekend block parties where police, after cordoning off the road, stopped by for barbecue. Neighbors took meticulous care of their lawns in the summer and offered to help shovel driveways of the elderly in the winter.

"It makes me very angry, what's happening now," he said.

Gay, who lives with his wife, Josephine, 71, and granddaughter Shakima, 21, said he keeps watch on the abandoned homes near him, patrolling every night as he walks his dog. He regularly cuts the grass and rakes the lawns of the houses on either side of his.

"Everybody calls me a damn fool because they see me doing it and wonder why," he said. "I do it because I love my house."

Gay said he's constantly calling police or Babylon Town, looking for help. "Somebody's always breaking into the house next door," he said. "I call 911. It just keeps happening."

Suffolk police said there have been many calls about squatters or related issues on the block, and a Babylon Town 14-page incident report on one of the properties next to Gay's goes back nearly a decade.

The town has cleaned or boarded up at least six properties on the street. Workers tried without success to get banks to maintain the properties in foreclosure, officials said.

"Have exhausted all avenues of getting a hold of bank," a town worker wrote in the incident report in 2012. "Spoke with several people, they were supposed to have the preservation department get back to me. I again have left several messages to no avail. Also tried getting numbers for the preservation department myself, have not had any luck."

Gay said many of the homes on the street began to deteriorate after their original owners died or relocated, leaving the homes to their children. Unable to keep up with property taxes, they began renting them or abandoning them, he said.

During the height of the crack epidemic in the '90s, Gay said, he considered moving out of Wyandanch, even though he raised five children there.

Instead of moving after retiring, he expanded and updated the house, adding two bedrooms and a front porch. The work increased the value of his home significantly, Gay said.

But after an assessment last year, Gay said, he learned the proliferation of abandoned houses in the neighborhood decreased the assessed value of his home from $72,000 to $58,000. The assessor, he said, told him it's a "neighborhood that nobody wants."

Even so, he won't sell. He proudly points to the 30-year-old rosebush he cares for in the summer, along with a garden full of collard greens, tomatoes and carrots.

"I love my house," Gay said.

His son Ed Gay Jr. said many people in the neighborhood simply want to live a quiet suburban life.

"We don't want loud noise or neighbors who park cars on their lawn," he said. "The same things people in Oakdale want, the same things people in the Hamptons want, the people in Wyandanch want."

What Gay Sr. wants, he said, is for his block to be "nice again."

"I'm looking for someone to move into those houses who wants a home," he said. "I just hope I'm around to see it."


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