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Huntington officials work to resurrect zombie houses, other abandoned homes

Susan A. Berland, a Democrat, is a Huntington

Susan A. Berland, a Democrat, is a Huntington Town councilwoman. Credit: James Escher

Huntington officials are taking steps to combat "zombie houses" and other deteriorating homes in the town.

They have organized a consortium of industry professionals to recommend ways to expedite rehabilitating dilapidated, abandoned homes, including those known as zombie houses that are mired in the foreclosure process with an owner who has walked away.

"We wanted to get a group of experts together to be able to come up with suggestions in case funding sources become available to deal with these types of properties," said town board member Susan Berland, who co-sponsored legislation forming the group with colleague Tracey Edwards. "And also attack the issue from the perspective of a number of people."

The consortium is to include volunteers from the real estate and banking industries, housing advocates, and officials from nonprofits who can help identify owners and lending institutions associated with the properties.

So far the organizations signed on to the consortium are the Huntington Township Housing Coalition, the Community Development Corporation of Long Island, the Long Island Partnership, United Way of Long Island and the Huntington Township Chamber of Commerce. Berland said the group is to meet in the next couple of weeks.

A yearlong Newsday investigation found that Long Island municipalities spent at least $3.2 million last year cleaning, boarding up and demolishing vacant homes, including zombie houses. Nassau and Suffolk counties have more than 4,000 vacant and foreclosed houses, real estate data show.

Huntington had a mechanism in place to address blighted properties. And just about each month the town's code enforcement department presents the town board with a list of blighted properties.

The town assigns points for blight conditions. When a property reaches 100 points, the blight process starts, with a public hearing to add the address to the blight list and a letter asking the owner to sign a restoration agreement.

If the owner fails within 30 days to clean the property or enter into a restoration pact with the town, the property is added to the blight list, and an annual fee is attached to the town tax bill: $5,000 for commercial properties and $2,500 for residential, until the issues are addressed.

Edwards said the town blight legislation, which Berland created and the town adopted in July 2011, put Huntington on the path to addressing abandoned and deteriorated properties in town.

"We were ahead of this in terms of identification and remediation," Edwards said. "But what we want to do is see if we have an opportunity to expedite the remediation and possibly use our residents to rehabilitate the houses and actually provide more housing opportunities."

Restoring houses could improve economic stability and quality of life, officials said.

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