MASTIC BEACH, NY — As the coronavirus pandemic continues, the number of abandoned and foreclosed homes in Suffolk County continues to rise.
With an eye toward addressing an issue that has created significant blight and quality-of-life concerns in communities, the Suffolk County legislature, on Monday, approved a measure sponsored by Legislator Rudy Sunderman to create a task force convened to address the “zombie home” crisis, he said in a release.
“We have a widespread problem with vacant and foreclosed homes throughout Suffolk County,” Sunderman said. “Since taking office, I have worked hard within my own community to combat vacant homes through programs such as the Suffolk County Landbank Corporation, but more needs to be done.”
Over the past 15 years, the number of zombie homes in Suffolk County has increased due to the financial crisis of 2008 and Hurricanes Irene and Sandy in 2011 and 2012, he said.
“Zombie” properties are a burden on the town and county, leading to increased costs associated with repair or remediation, and can bring down the property values of other homes nearby, Sunderman said.
Zombie homes, he added, can also attract squatters.
The idea for the task force was born at meetings Sunderman had with concerned residents seeking to create change in the community, he said.
Residents have said they would like to see blighted, vacant homes in the area rehabilitated and made available for first-time homebuyers, veterans, or others in need of affordable housing, he said.
When a property is either in foreclosure or a pre-foreclosure process, it can be difficult to identify the true owner of the property, and as a result the property remains in a state of limbo, which is why many are referred to as “zombie homes,” Sunderman said.
Working with Brookhaven town officials in recent years, properties that poses health and safety issue to the surrounding community have been demolished. Instead, members of the community have stated that they would like to see these properties rehabilitated and occupied by property owners,” he said.
“There is a large number of homes that are considered in distress in Suffolk County,” said Sunderman. “Especially now during a pandemic when many people have been out of work and businesses have been closed, I fear this number will increase. It is time to be proactive on this problem.”
The task force will be comprised of 25 members, including Suffolk County department heads, representatives from the 10 townships within Suffolk, representatives from the banking industry, realtors, veterans service agencies, and others.
The task force will meet regularly to discuss this issue and will hold two public hearings to allow residents an opportunity to speak, he said.
The task force will be charged with examining and evaluating the zombie home crisis in Suffolk County, identifying communities with large proportions of zombie homes, and developing recommendations and strategies to reduce the number of zombie homes, promote homeownership, and increase community revitalization, Sunderman said.
Recommendations may include changes to state, county, or local laws and policies to decrease the number of zombie homes in Suffolk County. The task force will issue a written report containing its findings and recommendations, he said. That report will also contain recommendations on how Suffolk County can increase community revitalization efforts and promote homeownership in areas that have been blighted by the zombie home crisis, Sunderman said.
“This task force is the first step in working to resolve the zombie home crisis in Suffolk County,” Sunderman said. “If we can make a positive impact that helps to benefit communities struggling with zombie homes, we can help to improve the overall quality of life for everyone in Suffolk County.”