Housing coalition to hold the line on ‘zombie homes’ when evictions resume

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SLOAN, N.Y. (WIVB) – With the end of New York’s eviction moratorium looming on the horizon, local officials are gearing up for a war on zombie homes.

Sloan officials took down a zombie property on Tuesday, but housing activists want to try a different way.

The vacant apartment house Sloan officials demolished was beyond repair, and they determined it posed a safety hazard, so they took it down.

Instead of this, though, a task force of Western New York housing advocates believes the best way to take on zombies is preventing them.

“This is a problem that we have rang the bell,” Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns said. “Especially with COVID-19, we are facing a dire situation here in Erie County.”

The dilapidated tenement on Broadway in Sloan came down quickly due to years of neglect and possibly a questionable construction technique.

“It is when the first floor and second floor actually have the same – there is no levels in between – it is 20-foot support walls,” said Debra Smith, Sloan village clerk. “So what happens is if the roof starts to degenerate, it actually pushes the walls out.”

But for sloan officials, getting to this point took much more effort, so they summoned the help of Kearn’s zombie initiative.

“We are bringing the banks to the table,” Kearns said. “Instead of shaming them, we are bringing them to the table and they are finally listening to us.”

The bank foreclosed on the house, but with the courts virtually shut down by COVID-19, it was difficult for the bank to take control of the property until the zombie initiative intervened.

“It is really a collaborative effort between a lot of different partners,” Smith said. “It may seem like a simple process, but it really is not when there’s banks and HUD involved.”

But the goal of the war on zombies is to prevent foreclosed property from becoming a zombie in the first place, by keeping homeowners in their homes until the bank takes control, which sometimes never happens.

“We are always trying to get to properties prior to a demolition needing to happen,” said Kate Lockhart of the Western New York Law Center. “But unfortunately this property was too far gone by the time it was reported to us, and we moved forward.”

If you are on the verge of foreclosure or actually in foreclosure, the Western New York Law Center can help, and they are setting up at the county auto bureaus in Depew and the Sheridan Plaza in Tonawanda this Thursday and Saturday.

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