Weekly Feature

2018-08-08 / Local News

Erie County Foreclosure Task Force launched

Mickey Kearns Mickey Kearns Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns was recently joined by Kate Lockhart of the Western New York Law Center, as well as representatives from several local housing and realty groups, to announce a new countywide foreclosure task force.

Kearns and the WNY Law Center are launching the Erie County Zombie Foreclosure Task Force to address the pervasive issue of foreclosures throughout the county.

In January, Kearns initiated the Neighborhood Foreclosure A.L.E.R.T. Program to track foreclosures filed at the clerk’s office. Through the program, Kearns generated a report finding that more than 600 foreclosures have commenced since January 2018.

These 617 new foreclosures are scattered throughout various municipalities, with the city of Buffalo and towns of Cheektowaga and Tonawanda rounding out the top three.

Fourth on the list is the Town of Amherst. According to a report from the Western New York Law Center, the Town of Amherst properties with lis pendens filings for January 2018 through June 2018 include 38 properties. In the Village of Williamsville, there are five.

The lis pendens is the notice of mortgage default and is the first document to be filed with the county clerk. In the report, the Town of Amherst includes the hamlet of Getzville.

“These numbers are alarming,” Kearns said. “Erie County has been dealing with a housing crisis for more than a decade. These additional foreclosures show that this problem is not slowing down. These new foreclosures only compound on an already dire situation and lead to the potential of more vacant and abandoned properties.

“We have seen how this story ends,” he said. “Filing the foreclosure is just the first step in this process.” He added that far too often, these foreclosed properties become “zombie properties,” causing strain on local municipalities.

“While the number of foreclosures being filed in Erie County has decreased since the Great Recession, the fact remains that thousands of families are still facing the loss of their home,” said Kate Lockhart of the WNY Law Center. “The fact that more than 600 homes have had lis pendens filed against them since the beginning of the year shows that families are still struggling, and affordable housing continues to be an issue.”

She said it is important to unite countywide to address the foreclosure and zombie foreclosure issue and create long-term stability for neighborhoods.

Out of the 42 municipalities in Erie County, 33 or nearly 80 percent had at least one lis pendens filing within the first six months of 2018, the Western New York Law Center report said. Foreclosures are thus affecting more than three-fourths of Erie County in the first half of the year.

The task force is a collaborative response to the foreclosure problem throughout the county. While many municipalities have their own distressed property task force, the mission is to enhance these efforts, distribute strategies with proven results, create new solutions, and make changes to foreclosure law on a county and state level.

With the support and data from the county clerk’s office, the task force will identify those at risk for foreclosure sooner so that efforts are most effective to prevent zombie foreclosures.

“We need homeowners to know that if they have received a foreclosure notice, they can stay in their home,” Kearns said.

Kearns said the zombie foreclosure crisis is affecting cities, towns and villages countywide. “This crisis requires a unified county approach to create an effective solution and provide our neighborhoods relief. The Foreclosure Task Force will assist municipalities and homeowners to better navigate through this extensive and overwhelming process.”

The task force will comprise local officials and representatives from housing agencies and universities in Erie County. The Erie County Zombie Foreclosure Task Force held its first meeting on Tuesday.

Participants include the African American Cultural Center, Buffalo State College, Rep. Brian Higgins’ Office, The Buffalo Erie Niagara Land Improvement Corporation, Hunt Real Estate, The Buffalo Urban League, Erie County Office for People with Disabilities, local block club presidents and the Town of Evans.

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