“Shame the Bank” campaign goes to West Seneca

WEST SENECA, N.Y. (WIVB) – Local leaders expanded their “bank shaming” initiative, Friday, taking aim at a “zombie property” in West Seneca.

State Assemblyman Michael Kearns (D-Buffalo, West Seneca) is waging war on those abandoned homes resulting from mortgage foreclosures, by posting signs in the front yards naming the bank responsible for the foreclosure.

Kearns vowed to make bank shaming a regular event, “Every single Friday—‘Foreclosure Friday’—we are going to announce a new property.”

The Buffalo lawmaker gathered West Seneca’s three council members and officials from the Western New Law Center to post a sign in the front yard of an abandoned home on Jasmine Avenue, this time naming two banks for the zombie property.

The property has been vacant for about 5 years, but Town Councilman William Hanley said, there is no shortage of interest.

”We all know somebody that would love to purchase one of these houses. For the banks to sit on them just to help their bottom line is a shame.”

Officials blamed CitiFinancial for foreclosing on the house, back in 2008, then selling the mortgage to Christiana Trust in 2013, without taking over the deed. Without the deed, the bank does not legally own the property.

But foreclosure proceedings almost always force homeowners to give up their claim to the property, and with the deed in limbo, it is almost impossible to sell the property.

Kate Lockhart, an attorney with the Western New York Law Center said, enough time has passed for Christiana Trust take the appropriate steps in court to take possession of the deed, and sell the house on Jasmine Avenue.

“There should not be anything in the way right now, for the bank to complete this foreclosure and then auction it off.”

But Lockhart said banks don’t usually take that additional step of owning a foreclosed property to sell it.

“Because when the property is not bought by somebody else at the auction, the bank takes title to it and then it becomes an REO–a Real Estate Owned property. So the bank would own it at that point, and a lot of times they don’t want those on the books.”

Town officials said West Seneca is a hot real estate market, and with about 90 vacant properties in town, Town Supervisor Sheila Meegan said zombies are killing the American Dream of home ownership.

“It is a missed opportunity for another young family to come in and enjoy this community. It is an easy fix, and that is why we don’t understand the banks’ posture.”

Neighbor Anthony Volpe pointed across the street, saying the zombie home on Jasmine Avenue is hurting the neighborhood.

“Those poor people next door, they take care of their house very well, as you can see.”

Kearns likens the activities of the banks today to practices that led to the housing crisis and financial meltdown in 2008.

“The taxpayer is the one that is going to foot the bill. So why should we be subsidizing the banks? We bailed them out one time during the crisis, now we’ve got to bail them out again? That is unconscionable.”

Kearns said the banks have been fighting a measure in Albany that would force them to be more responsible with their foreclosures, called the “Good Neighbor Act”.

Now, Kearns says the banks are asking for a summit to find an answer to the zombie home scourge in New York.

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