This week, amNY published an in-depth report on so-called "zombie houses": Not haunted houses or apocalyptic hideouts, as the name might suggest, but homes abandoned by owners who are facing foreclosure, that have gone into serious disrepair.
New York State's foreclosure process can take up to three years, and in the meantime, these houses tend to rot. No one maintains a zombie house, but no one demolishes it either. Hence, in the dramatic language of the report, they exist "in a state between life and death."
This is especially troubling considering our current housing crisis. "Because the foreclosure process drags on for so long," the report posits, "the homes decay so much it’s not worth it for an investor to buy them and fix them up."
Here are some more zombie house stats, pulled from Realtytrac data:
The city saw an overall 28% increase in the number of zombie houses between January 2014 and May 2015.
Kings County had the most zombie houses — 1,050, which was a 22% increase between January 2014 and May 2015; Queens County came in second with 905 zombie homes — a 14% increase between January 2014 and May 2015.
The Bronx and Richmond counties had the largest percentage increase in the number of zombie homes, 42% and 62%, respectively.
In Queens Village, the "epicenter of the foreclosure crisis" (Queens as a whole has 905 zombie houses), amNY meets Felix Toro, who moved to 215th Street earlier this year, and lives next to a zombie house. “Everyone keeps their eyes on it to make sure that nothing happens,” he said. “People want neighbors, not empty houses.”
In February, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman proposed legislation to address the "growing problem" of zombie houses. His Abandoned Property Neighborhood Relief Act is multi-faceted. For one thing, it would require mortgage lenders to keep track of and maintain abandoned houses. The bill also calls for a formal registry of abandoned homes, which would help said lenders keep track. It also calls on the state to inform homeowners of their right to stay in a home until they are officially ordered, by a court, to leave.
Because when you've got a zombie house on your block, Schneiderman said at a press conference this spring in the Bronx, "Property values go down. Crime and vandalism go up. It's a huge burden on local communities."
In May, 11 banks, mortgage lenders, and credit unions across the state agreed to adopt "best practices" to maintain homes during the foreclosure process, and to make that registry of abandoned houses that Schneiderman is excited about. Still, amNY argues, "Someone will still need to hold the lenders accountable."