A new tool in the fight against ‘zombie homes’

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A new website could help address the issue of vacant properties and so-called “zombie homes” in Monroe County.

Last week, Monroe County and the city of Rochester partnered to launch MCvacants.com, a hub for resources related to vacant properties. The website includes information for homeowners at risk of foreclosure, definitions of vacancy-related procedures, a list of resources by municipality, resources for selling or donating vacant properties, and a portal for reporting zombie homes.

“Many residents tell me that vacant properties are among the most concerning issues they face in their neighborhoods,” County Executive Adam Bello says. “Vacant and abandoned properties—so-called ‘zombie homes’—are a dangerous blight on our community.”

According to the website, the difference between vacant and zombie properties is whether or not the mortgage servicer is initiating timely foreclosure proceedings. If they are acting in good faith, the foreclosure process is intended to afford homeowners with protections and opportunities to avoid losing their home.

The foreclosure process can take up to 28 months in Monroe County and annual auctions for the city of Rochester occur approximately 16 months after a tax lien on a property becomes delinquent. 

In addition, pre-ownership education is available through HUD Housing Counseling Agencies in the area as well as the State of New York Mortgage Agency and Monroe County’s Home Improvement Program, whose grants can be used to purchase and renovate homes.

“The Vacant Property Resource Hub will empower community residents and stakeholders to play a critical role in our efforts to reverse disinvestment, stabilize property values, and strengthen neighborhoods,” Rochester Mayor Malik Evans says. “Partnerships (between the county and city governments) demonstrate the incredible progress we are making to create a safe, equitable and prosperous Rochester and Monroe County.”

In the most recently available data from the Census Bureau, Monroe County had more than 19,000 vacant units and an average rate of 6.6 percent vacant per census tract in 2020. Areas with large proportions of vacant units countywide included census tracts in the metro area of Rochester, Henrietta, Penfield and Brockport.

In that same year, the city of Rochester’s vacant units topped 8,000 and the area had an average vacancy rate of 9.2 percent. Census tracts in the neighborhoods of Beechwood, Marketview, the Center City, Mayors Heights, Lyell-Otis, and Maplewood had high vacancy rates.

A property on Thomas Street has more than 150 outstanding code violations.

Further analysis of the most recently available code enforcement data for vacant structures in the city reveals that the average number of violations was 12. Rafeal Diaz was listed in the data as the owner with the most outstanding violations; a property in his name on Thomas Street has over 150. Ten vacant units owned by the city of Rochester had a total of 62 violations.

The vacant properties hub was created by the Monroe Vacant Property Advisor Committee, which was created in 2021, and is hosted online via funding provided by the city of Rochester.

Jacob Schermerhorn is a Rochester Beacon contributing writer. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.

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