Land Bank bringing “zombie” properties back to life


LACKAWANNA, N.Y. (WIVB) – The brick ranch style house on Abbott Road in Lackawanna sat dark and empty for years–abandoned by its previous owner, leaving a pile of unpaid property taxes and user fees.

Then the Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corporation (BENLIC), known as the “Land Bank” bought the house at a Lackawanna tax foreclosure sale, and hired contractors to breathe life back into the “zombie property” and put it back on the market.

BENLIC officials showed off the newly remodeled house, Thursday afternoon. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the “extreme makeover” was a good investment for the Land Bank.

“It was allowed to rot and decay and become such an eyesore that it could not be sold, but it should not have been demolished, because there were good bones in this building.”

The Land Bank uses money from settlements New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has reached with banks over their foreclosure procedures that have often led to zombie properties, called the Community Revitalization Initiative (CRI).

While the house on Abbott Road was not a bank foreclosed property, BENLIC officials used about $45,000 from the CRI fund to bring the property back to life, and Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski is happy to know it could soon be back on the city’s tax rolls.

“This property has always been incredibly nice property, it was always well-maintained, until near the end.”

BENLIC was one of the first land banks organized in the state. Among the first properties the land bank bought was a house in the Town of Tonawanda, which had been a target of Call 4 Action, after neighbors complained about its poor condition.

A new owner bought the house before the land bank had a chance to fix it up, and BENLIC Executive Director Jocelyn Gordon said the owner is working hard to fix it up.

“He bought the house and we have been driving by it regularly to make sure he is doing what he said he was going to. Because the Land Bank–we want to try to make sure that the people buy the property and take care of it.”

Neighbors in Tonawanda now say they are very happy with the changes, and are watching their new neighbor’s progress.

Once the land banked properties are sold, the proceeds from the sale are used to buy other distressed properties. BENLIC officials plan to put the Abbott Road house on the market shortly, and predict they will double their return on investment, when it is sold.

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