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Zombie home communities to receive NY state grants

Millions of dollars in state grant money will be given to local governments struggling to maintain abandoned houses.

State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman on Thursday announced a new grant initiative to battle “zombie” homes, which 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 in the top 10 regions in the nation for the number of zombie houses.

Newsday’s yearlong analysis found that local municipalities in 2014 spent more than $3.2 million to maintain vacant houses.

The Zombie Remediation and Prevention Initiative will provide $13 million in grants to local governments through a competitive application process. The 100 communities with the greatest number of zombie homes have been invited to apply.

Among the criteria is that communities must have at least 5,000 residents and at least 100 vacant and abandoned properties. The grant money will come from a multi-billion dollar settlement with Morgan Stanley that Schneiderman helped negotiate earlier this year.

Local governments may use the grant money for housing code enforcement, tracking and monitoring vacant properties and ensuring banks and mortgage companies comply with local and state law. The grants also require communities to connect at-risk homeowners to services so they can avoid foreclosure.

The initiative comes on the heels of legislation signed last month by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo aimed at addressing the zombie home scourge. Under the new law, municipalities and the state Department of Financial Services can seek fines up to $500 per day per property from banks and mortgage servicers that fail to maintain vacant houses.

Grants for each community are expected to range between $75,000 and $350,000, with notifications to be made in September.

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