Kearns helps small towns take on zombies

Local News

The growth of “zombie homes” in suburban Erie County has prompted Erie County Clerk Michael Kearns to launch a ZOMBIES Initiative, using a $200,000 grant to fund the effort.

ZOMBIES is the acronym for Zero Tolerance, Open lines of communication, Municipal participation, Bank accountability, Investment in neighborhoods, Engage and educate communities, and Solutions.

The ZOMBIES Initiative is designed to help smaller towns in Erie County use the tools afforded by new state laws that hold banks accountable when they foreclose on homes, and then fail to complete the foreclosure process.

In recent years state lawmakers have enabled cities to crack down on banks and loan servicing firms that foreclose on properties, then leave them abandoned, and eventually they deteriorate into neighborhood eyesores.

State officials have also provided millions of dollars to enforce those laws, but smaller towns have zombies, too.

Kearns’ “zero tolerance” program may be the only one of its kind in New York, “We found out that nearly 9,500 people in Erie County are 90 days or more late on their mortgage. That is terrifying to me.”

A component of Kearns’ “engage and educate communities” component is helping homeowners understand a foreclosure does not necessarily mean they have to move–which eventually leads to deterioration–unless the bank completes the foreclosure.

Kearns points out the homeowners have a legal right to remain on their property unless the banks completes the foreclosure, evicts the homeowner, but in many cases the banks do not go that far.

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