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Syracuse Land Bank addresses lead in homes, zombie properties in DeWitt

Tom Magnarelli
Katelyn Wright, the executive director of the Syracuse Land Bank.

The Greater Syracuse Land Bank recently made its 400th sale after it began selling tax-delinquent properties in 2013. The land bank's goals for the new year are to expand outside the city and address health concerns about their properties.

That 400th sale was a home in Syracuse that was listed in the Land Bank’s Home Ownership Choice program, which requires buyers to live on the property or to renovate and sell to an owner-occupant within a year. Land Bank Executive Director Katelyn Wright said most of the properties they sell are fixer-uppers.

“By the time you figure your purchase and your renovation costs in, you should still have a lot of wiggle room under what that house is really worth," Wright said. "We want people to be rewarded and have some instant equity in exchange for this hard work that they’re doing.”  

The goal is to get these properties back on the tax rolls. Wright said the Land Bank has had success and wants to continue that in other areas. She said they also want to get more aggressive about reducing the risk of lead in their acquired homes.

“Most of these homes were built before 1978 and they have lead paint in them," Wright said. "It is a major public health concern and we don’t always know which houses have the lead contamination and which ones don’t. We kind of assume they all have had lead paint at some point. We’re going to be doing a pilot program this year to see if we can get our buyers to go a step further in terms of lead risk reduction and making these healthy homes as well.”

The Land Bank will work with Onondaga County and the city of Syracuse to test a program requiring buyers to make homes lead safe during renovations, while also offering incentives to do so. The Land Bank will also partner with the town of DeWitt to deal with zombie properties that have been foreclosed and neglected by mortgage lenders there.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.