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Suffolk Legislature OKs creation of task force to tackle county's zombie home crisis

As a steady rain fell, Brookhaven Town officials

As a steady rain fell, Brookhaven Town officials were joined by concerned citizens to watch the demolition of the former Zombie Strip Club in East Patchogue on Monday morning, April 20, 2015. Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

The Suffolk County Legislature has approved the creation of a task force to combat the problem of blighted homes known as "zombie houses."

The group will examine the problem of zombie homes — defined as houses in disrepair that have been abandoned and are in foreclosure — and develop strategies to reduce the number of these properties, promote homeownership and increase community revitalization.

"This was something that was important to my community when I first came in, and now with COVID and future concerns I think we have to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible," said Legis. Rudy Sunderman (R-Shirley), who sponsored the bill, which was approved 17-0 Monday by the Legislature.

According to ATTOM Data Solutions, a California-based real estate information company, New York leads the country in zombie homes as of October, with 2,131, more than double that of the next closest state of Florida, with 1,027. The company’s data shows that Suffolk County has the highest number of zombie homes among all U.S. counties and leads the state with 423, followed by Nassau County with 249.

In 2015, Newsday wrote a five-part series on the zombie home crisis that spurred the state and local municipalities to take legislative action to try to contain the problem. In addition, many Long Island towns and villages have created vacant home and mortgage default registries, stepped up code enforcement and increased efforts to hold banks and mortgage companies responsible for maintenance when homes fall into disrepair.

"I think we’ve got to get everybody to the table and ensure that there’s some transparency and some consistency, not only among the towns but among the banks," Sunderman said.

The task force will consist of 25 members: legislature leaders, the county executive, county department heads, representatives from Suffolk’s 10 towns and also from the banking industry and groups such as the Long Island Board of Realtors, Long Island Housing Partnership and Habitat for Humanity.

The chair of the task force will be selected by a majority of the group, and the first meeting is in March. Two public hearings on the issue will be held and the task force will produce a report of its findings and recommendations.

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