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Zombie home fund needs a lively infusion

This abandoned house on Bellport Avenue in North

This abandoned house on Bellport Avenue in North Bellport was demolished by the Town of Brookhaven in 2015. Credit: Johnny Milano

It’s been nine years since the economic collapse and mortgage meltdown led to a foreclosure crisis. Yet, even after the recovery, vacant, unmaintained “zombie” homes continue to blight communities, destroying the quality of life, home values and the potential for revitalization.

Among the hardest hit is the Town of Brookhaven, with more than 2,000 zombie homes. Banks holding the mortgages leave these eyesores to deteriorate until the only option is to demolish them. Supervisor Ed Romaine wants to stop that pattern.

He has suggested that the state develop a new grant program or expand existing ones to allow the town to work with the Long Island Housing Partnership and Long Island Builders Institute to purchase zombie homes, rehabilitate them, and sell them to first-time home buyers and veterans. Money from purchases would go to buying and fixing other zombie homes. Such a program could build on successes like Suffolk County’s land bank and the state’s Neighborhood Revitalization Program and Community Restoration Fund.

Romaine’s proposal is intriguing, one that state Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo should consider. But it also sheds light on a larger problem: Funds from Schneiderman’s settlements with lenders and other financial firms in the wake of the mortgage crisis are drying up. While Brookhaven received $350,000 from Schneiderman to develop a vacant property registry, more money — and Brookhaven wants about $2 million to start — may be harder to find. There needs to be a state funding stream to deal with zombie homes and related issues, perhaps by expanding existing state programs or creating a new one.

Otherwise, these zombie properties will still haunt Long Island.