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NY AG James announces $9 million to go after ‘zombie’ properties

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
New York Attorney General Letitia James, center, in Utica.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced $9 million in grants from her office to address what’s called “zombie homes” or vacant, abandoned homes across the state. The “Zombies 2.0” program provides funding to municipalities, including Syracuse, Auburn and Utica. 

It helps cities and towns create databases of zombie homes, partner with land banks, build affordable homes and repurpose properties. Speaking in Utica on Wednesday, James said more than a decade after the collapse of the housing market, New Yorkers are still feeling and seeing the repercussions.

“We know that these abandoned homes dramatically decrease property values, they burden local governments, they threaten the safety of surrounding communities,” James said.  

Utica Mayor Robert Palmieri said zombie properties have been frustrating to mayor and town supervisors for years. While there’s still more to do, he said the funding is a step in the right direction.

“We’ve seen the ability through the zombie legislation and funding to categorize, to catalog, to get the necessary information to find out where these properties are and have the teeth to go after them,” Palmieri said.

Utica resident Joe Cucharale lives next door to one of these “zombie” properties, a house he said could be 100 years old. The Greater Mohawk Valley Land Bank is in the process of rehabilitating the home. Cucharale said while progress is great, he and other neighbors are disappointed the house wasn’t torn down, which he said was the original plan. He is worried about asbestos and lead paint in the home.

“This is a good thing that they do, and it’s a good thing when it works I guess," Cucharale said. "But it’s all in the decisions they make. And in this case, in my opinion and others, they just made the wrong decision.”

The city of Syracuse is receiving close to $400,000 from the program. In a statement, Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said it will allow the city to hire additional enforcement staff, to compel owners to improve their properties.  

Funding for the program comes from a $500 million settlement in 2018, between the attorney general’s office and the Royal Bank of Scotland, over the bank’s deceptive practices and misrepresentations to investors.

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.