State and local officials gathered Wednesday in downtown Albany to highlight legislation awaiting the governor’s signature that addresses the issue of vacant and abandoned buildings.
Blighted buildings are commonplace in upstate New York cities. Municipalities have different ways of dealing with decay: the city of Albany maintains a Vacant Building Registry, marking questionable buildings deemed unsafe with a red X. State Assemblyman John McDonald of the 108th district is calling for final action on a bill that passed both the Senate and Assembly during the legislative session.
The Democrat says it would cut the period of time of the residential foreclosure process from two years of delinquent taxes to one. "It means tax foreclosing entities like Albany County, like the city of Troy, like the city of Schenectady, can move these properties to new owners. To hopefully, new stewards. Whether they auction it, whether they sell it, whether they transfer it to the land bank, which Albany County has been doing a great job with here in the city of Albany, they have many different options. For far too long these buildings have depressed property values in the neighborhood. For far too long it’s caused nightmares for first responders and public safety members. And for far too long these buildings have also been buildings where criminal activities, drug activities, can find itself a new home. And the intent of this process is to shorten that period, to transfer these properties, to help improve property values here in the city, to help improve the quality fo life in the neighborhood."
Assemblywoman Pat Fahy of the 109th district says the sooner these properties are back on the tax rolls, the better. "Especially with roofs caving in, with more infestation of especially rodents or whatever the case may be and we have seen some really terrible results because of this. I know the land bank has done some amazing work, but that is not enough. We definitely need to do more."
Albany County Executive Dan McCoy says this legislation will speed up the process of saving properties and save money at the same time. "In '08 when the recession started, more people abandoned their homes. In Albany County, we end up with the property. And the other issue we have in Albany County, we keep city taxes and school districts whole in every municipality, so that becomes another burden to us, that we have to pay for everything."
Mayor Kathy Sheehan says the Albany neighborhoods where many of the Red X's appear have suffered from the cumulative impact of decades of racism, discrimination, redlining and bad public policy. "This reduction from two years to one year is very important, and I do want to stress this isn't about foreclosing on houses where you have somebody with a catastrophic illness, mom goes into a nursing home, you know, there's been a death in the family... those are all things that we're working on on a policy level to address and focus on within the work that we're doing around vacant buildings. But the other piece of this is the county legislature now has to agree to move faster as well. Right now it takes three years of delinquent taxes, in most instances, before the county will foreclose, and that foreclosure happens in the fourth year. So, we need to work on looking at strategic areas where we can do some pilots and really greatly accelerate that process so we can get these properties into the hands of the landbank faster, at a lower cost and with the ability to turn them around and rehabilitate them more quickly."
Rich Azzopardi is the governor's senior advisor: “Governor Cuomo has enacted some of the strongest laws in the nation to help communities combat the scourge of zombie properties and we will review any legislation designed to build upon and further strengthen these protections. "
Azzopardi points out that roughly 900 bills passed both houses at the end of the session and 746 remain.