Rochester, NY - Monroe County Executive Candidate Adam Bello today announced a comprehensive strategy to combat vacant “zombie” homes in Monroe County, highlighting a complete absence of any plan within the current county administration to do so.
"Over the past decade, the proliferation of vacant "zombie" homes has become one of the most direct threats to the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” said Bello. “Other communities across New York are rolling up their sleeves to find creative ways to get these properties back into ownership. Yet, the current county administration continues to act as if this problem doesn’t exist, opting for photo-ops and press releases, instead of solid strategies.”
As of a June 2016 report, “Devaluing Monroe County: How Zombie Properties Impact Homeowners,” by the New York State Senate, there were hundreds of so-called zombie properties in Monroe County. Those properties in turn impacted the property value of an estimated 7,999 neighboring properties, causing up to $9.4 million in property value depreciation.
In addition to the impact on property values, vacant properties increase the likelihood of crime, are a blight on neighborhoods, and impact community pride. Deteriorating housing stock has also been linked to higher exposures to lead, particularly in children.
Bello announced that in contrast to the one home rehabilitated since the current County Executive was elected, his comprehensive strategy would result in the rehabilitation of 500 homes during his first term in office, and highlighted three central pillars of his plan to combat these zombie homes.
1) Establishing a countywide Land Bank, similar to that which exists in most other larger counties in Upstate New York. Authorized by state law, this is an effective resource to help counties take ownership over distressed properties, create a self-sustaining system to rehabilitate these properties and get them back online; as well as tap into state funding to combat zombie homes. Land banks throughout New York State have helped remedy thousands of zombie homes, collectively.
2) End the practice of selling tax liens on troubled properties to balance the county budget. For years, the County of Monroe has made a habit of selling delinquent property tax liens, which has essentially prolonged and worsened the condition of these homes. Rather than addressing the zombie home before it reaches the point where it cannot be rehabilitated, the County has opted to sell the tax lien to balance its near-insolvent budget.
3) Prioritizing partnership with towns, as opposed to being their adversary. Bello called on the County of Monroe to drop its legal challenge with the Towns of Brighton and Irondequoit. In 2017, the County adopted a new policy of not guaranteeing property taxes derived from property maintenance charges. This created a significant challenge for towns and removed much of the leverage with enforcing property maintenance codes.
Bello held his announcement in front of a zombie home on Kings Highway South in Irondequoit and said this property exemplified everything that was wrong with the county’s current approach. “Had Monroe County not sold the tax lien, they could have foreclosed on this property, taken ownership through the land bank, rehabilitated it, and sold it to a responsible owner,” Bello said. “Neighborhoods shouldn’t have to deal with the burden of these vacant properties. This home doesn’t have to be like this if we have creative thinkers leading our community.”
Irondequoit Town Supervisor David Seeley, who joined Bello at the announcement, spoke of his frustration that not only has the county completely failed to lead on this issue, but that it was actively making it harder for towns to find positive solutions on their own. “Zombie homes are a threat to every community in New York State. And while many counties are executing comprehensive strategies to manage to problem properties, Monroe County has failed to do so,” Seeley said. “I was happy to work with Adam Bello when he was Supervisor. Together, we helped adopt the most aggressive local zombie home management law in the region. I'm confident he can continue to lead on this issue if elected County Executive.”
Bello noted that this countywide strategy to address the problem of zombie homes was one piece of his broader plan to move Monroe County forward through innovation and collaboration. As County Executive, his administration will bring the community together to meet its challenges through new ideas, new energy, and new leadership, and he will continue to highlight his plans to do so throughout the campaign.