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Long Island municipalities apply for zombie house grants

A group of Long Island municipalities are asking

A group of Long Island municipalities are asking the state for $2.7 million in grants to help fight vacant foreclosed "zombie" homes. Credit: Steve Pfost

More than a dozen Long Island municipalities are asking the state for $3.1 million in grant money to help fight vacant foreclosed homes that fall into disrepair.

Out of the 100 municipalities in the state invited to apply for the $13 million in grants, 21 are on Long Island, the most of any region in the state.

The money is being made available by state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman to local communities to use toward “zombie” homes — those houses that have gone into foreclosure and been abandoned by their owners. Such houses often become dangerous eyesores attracting garbage, rodents and squatters.

A report last year by Newsday and News 12 Long Island found that Long Island led the state and ranked among the top 10 regions in the nation for the number of zombie houses, with thousands of dilapidated homes from Levittown to the Hamptons. Newsday’s yearlong analysis found that local municipalities in 2014 spent more than $3.2 million to maintain vacant houses.

The grant money comes from a multibillion-dollar settlement with Morgan Stanley that Schneiderman helped negotiate this year. Among the criteria for eligibility, communities must have at least 5,000 residents and at least 100 vacant and abandoned properties.

Municipalities were given a limit as to how much they could ask for, and to receive the money they must promise to connect at-risk homeowners to services so they can avoid foreclosure. The application process is being handled by Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a national nonprofit that used U.S. Postal Service vacancy data to determine which communities would be invited to apply for the money.

Of the 21 communities, 17 have applied for the money, while three municipalities — the villages of Westbury and Patchogue, and the Town of Babylon — are not seeking the funds, officials said. Farmingdale Village officials could not be reached. Friday is the deadline for applications.

The mayors of Westbury and Patchogue said that there are not many zombie homes in their communities. While Babylon Town does have a significant number of zombie homes, Supervisor Rich Schaffer said the town did not apply because they are “already doing everything they were going to pay for,” referring to the grants.

Communities are asking for amounts ranging from $60,000 to $350,000 and will use the money to hire personnel for departments such as code enforcement. In addition, some are looking to purchase software to help better track abandoned homes and to ensure that they are maintained.

In keeping with the grant requirements, municipalities will also set up outreach programs, hoping to prevent homes from going into foreclosure or falling into disrepair.

In Brookhaven, town officials are battling “thousands” of zombie homes, according to Supervisor Edward P. Romaine, who said the town has requested $350,000 in grant money.

“It is a struggle every single day, but we are going to reclaim our neighborhoods, we are going to rebuild these houses,” he said. “We are going to look at every creative piece of legislation or grant we can get our hands on to do that.”

Municipalities will be notified in September whether they will be receiving money.

Grants sought, by municipality

Town/Village of Hempstead (joint application) $300,000

Town of Oyster Bay $250,000-$300,000

Village of Freeport $152,000

Town of North Hempstead $159,000

Village of Valley Stream $100,000

Village of Westbury None

City of Long Beach $100,000

City of Glen Cove $60,000-$85,000

Village of Farmingdale No response

Town of Brookhaven $350,000

Town of Islip $250,000-$350,000

Town of Babylon None

Town of Huntington $350,000

Village of Lindenhurst Amount unavailable

Village of Mastic Beach $150,000

Town of Southampton $175,000

Town of Smithtown No response

Village of Amityville $75,000

Village of Patchogue None

Town of Riverhead $100,000

Source: The municipalities

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