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Nassau approves land bank to acquire zombie homes

This board-up home sits in Levittown on Oct.

This board-up home sits in Levittown on Oct. 2, 2014. Credit: Chuck Fadely

Nassau County will move to tackle the issue of abandoned properties known as zombie homes with a new land bank to acquire, rehabilitate and sell them.

The county legislature Monday unanimously approved County Executive Edward Mangano's bill creating the nonprofit corporation, which under state law can buy and spend money on the upkeep of such sites to return them to use.

The administration said the land bank initially would use state grant money from the attorney general's office but would become self-sufficient by using sale proceeds for future purchases and cleanup. The state's Empire State Development Corp. must approve the land bank.

"Nassau County's Land Bank will enhance the quality of life throughout local neighborhoods by improving blighted, vacant and abandoned properties that are often eyesores in our communities," Mangano, a Republican, said in a statement.

Mangano proposed the land bank bill following a Newsday investigation this year that found Long Island municipalities spent at least $3.2 million in 2014 cleaning, boarding up and demolishing vacant homes, including zombie houses abandoned by owners during foreclosure proceedings.

In Nassau, there were 1,956 such zombie homes as of May, according to RealtyTrac, a national real estate tracking company.

Marianne Garvin, chief executive of the Community Development Corp. of Long Island, a Centereach nonprofit that has received government funding to repair and sell zombie houses, said she was "very pleased" with Nassau's action.

"The legal structure gives the county an opportunity to address the horrific problem of blighted properties in impacted neighborhoods," Garvin said, noting that Suffolk County also is using a land bank.

Suffolk established its land bank in 2013, initially targeting polluted sites that had been tax delinquent for decades. State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has set aside $2.6 million in financial settlement funds for Suffolk's zombie home effort.

Nassau's land bank will be run by a seven-member board composed of three members of the Mangano administration and four county legislative appointments -- two Republican aides and two Democratic lawmakers who represent areas where zombie homes are an issue.

While those Democrats -- Legis. Siela Bynoe of Westbury and Laura Curran of Baldwin -- supported the land bank, they argued that their version of the bill, filed months ago, would have been better. Democrats would have required the nonprofit to set affordable housing as its top priority when selling refurbished properties.

"We really missed a significant opportunity to do something above the status quo," Bynoe said before the vote.

Bob Moulton, president of Americana Mortgage Group in Manhasset, called the land bank "a good opportunity" for all parties, including lenders.

"It makes for more transactions," Moulton said, noting that the county likely would be selling the refurbished homes to people looking to obtain mortgages. "And that's good."

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