There are a lot of trendy terms out there addressing issues around houses and properties that go unkempt for a long period of time. These properties are typically given ‘zombie’ status; and refer to the concept that they are stuck in a complicated process. Somewhere between outright foreclosure and auction is the point where community stakeholders start to take notice that a particular piece of property might need help to be livable again.
That’s where the Finger Lakes Regional Land Bank comes into the equation. In late-2017 the Board of Supervisors took action, allowing for the Chairman to have access to a list, necessary to facilitate the process, which is governed partially by New York State. Having access to a list of properties available for the Land Bank to acquire, and then rehabilitate or demolish for sale is crucial.
Now moving through 2018 - Finger Lakes Regional Land Bank CEO Joe McGrath feels good about the progress being made. “2017 was the first year that the [Land Bank] was in a position administratively as well as financially to take tax delinquent, vacant, and abandoned properties from the county and redevelop the properties,” explained McGrath. “The Board of Supervisors transferred four properties to the land bank. Three of those properties were demolished in Fayette, the Village of Waterloo, and Varick which all had serious structural damage. The fourth house in the Town of Ovid was also in very rough shape, but it was still structurally sound.” He says a new roof was installed in 2017 and bids are now being accepted to remove some poorly constructed additions on the home. “When the land bank is finished removing the additions, installing a replacement septic, and reactivating the water wall the property will be transferred to the Seneca County Habitat for Humanity.”
He says that partnership with the Habitat for Humanity will allow for placement of a family. They will also be tasked with funding the remainder of the work done to the property. However, there’s been a change in funding level for the Land Bank in 2018, which has assisted with their overall efforts. “We’re utilizing a larger grant from the Attorney General's Office Land Bank Community Revitalization Initiative,” he explained. “The funding for this grant was won in a settlement with the banking industry stemming from misconduct that contributed to the housing crisis at the height of the Great Recession.”
That funding has allowed the Land Bank to acquire four additional properties from the tax foreclosure list. While the new properties are mostly located at the northern end of Seneca County - the effort is having a broad impact. “We also are searching for a second blighted, abandoned, and vacant residential home to acquire and undertake renovations on this year, hopefully through donation or a very a low price,” McGrath added. “We always knew that the rehabilitation projects would be complicated and expensive, in reviewing our activities in 2017 and into 2018 we learned that rehabbing extremely distressed properties to completion that are not on public sewer and water is cost prohibitive for the Land Bank.”
Referencing the property in Ovid, McGrath said that budgets quickly get maxed out when working on things related to septic and [water] wells. “Transferring the property to a community partner like Seneca County Habitat for Humanity to complete the renovations is a great partnership for the land bank because they have the capacity to finish the job as well as do the work of finding a family to live there,” he continued.
He said that the Land Bank is hopeful that the Habitat for Humanity will remain a strong partner for them.
McGrath says the Land Bank has received significant support from the Board of Supervisors and the County Treasurer. “With the support of the County, the Land Bank has been able to leverage the institutional knowledge of the real property tax office and the county codes department to begin to seriously confront systemic vacancy and abandonment in Seneca County,” McGrath concluded. He noted that it’s a game changer for the community as a whole - and is something that makes Seneca County stand out as it continues to move forward through this issue.
Noting the importance of preventing ‘unstable’ rental units; and properties from falling into complete disrepair - the Land Bank stands to make the community better through these efforts, according to the Land Bank’s energetic leader.