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The Upstate Economy

Watertown to use state aid to create database of all vacant homes in city

Julia Botero
Watertown will use state grant to create a database of all vacant homes in the city.

Empty and abandoned houses, known as zombie homes, are a big problem in the North Country. The State Attorney General has awarded a total of $13 million to cities and towns across the state to help tackle the problem.

Watertown City Planner Mike Lumbis says right now the office is notified about a new vacant home in the city only if a neighbor complains about it. The $150,000 grant will allow Watertown to create a database of all the homes that are empty or going into foreclosure. That database will have information on the homeowner, Lumbis says, usually a bank.

“It’ll allow us to get into contact with the property owners a lot quicker so that problems don’t persist and we can get them addressed in a timely fashion,” said Lumbis.

As part of a new state law, banks in the state are now required to register any houses they’ve acquired. Lumbis says that and the database will help the city keep tabs on bank-owned properties that might fall into disrepair. The state law also requires banks to take care of those homes while they’re empty.

He says the state funding will help his office go digital in tracking zombie properties. “It’s just going to save hours of time.”

The city will hire a temporary worker to help set up the database and create an aggressive media campaign to educate homeowners on where to find mortgage counseling and how to avoid foreclosure.

Here's a video explainer on zombie homes from one of our partners -- WXXI in Rochester. Reporter Sasha-Ann Simons has more on how these homes end up this way and how to prevent the problem as a homeowner: