Saving homes from destruction, restoring neighborhoods and offering homeownership opportunities for veterans and first-time homebuyers across the town.
Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine and the rest of the Town Board think they could accomplish all of those objectives through a proposed program they’re calling “Vacant to Vets.”
The idea is to facilitate the rehabilitation of so-called zombie homes, then sell those properties to mortgageable candidates at below-market rates.
To get rolling, the town is appealing for $10 million in seed money from the state attorney general’s office to start a revolving fund to help push the program along.
Romaine says that money would come from “the hundreds of millions of dollars in fines” forfeited by lenders in relation to the housing crisis.
“If we can have a small amount of that money, we will start redeeming these houses that have been vacant and empty,” Romaine said from outside such a vacant home at 3 Pine Street in Port Jefferson Station. “They’re a little bit of an eyesore, but not ready to be torn down.
“And they could be turned into affordable housing.”
This summer, the attorney general’s office announced that municipalities across the state would be getting grants to combat zombie homes in various forms, according to Newsday.
Brookhaven Town was slated to get $350,00o of $3.1 million being dispersed across the island, the report reads.
Zombie home is a term for a house on a property abandoned by their owners — whether the owners died, or picked up and left — but never went through the foreclosure process.
Vacant houses have plagued Long Island neighborhoods since the housing bubble burst, with Brookhaven greatly impacted.
Romaine said there are over 2,000 such houses in Brookhaven alone. Some 150 have already been destroyed by the town.
“We have a lot of homes like this in the Town of Brookhaven and we need to do something with them” before they do need to be demolished, said Councilwoman Valerie Cartright, who lives just a few blocks from the vacant home at 3 Pine Street.
“This is a partnership that is a step in the right direction,” she continued, “and we’re going to continue moving forward to rehab these homes because first-time homebuyers and veterans need them.”
Under the proposal, the town government would purchase zombie home properties using the money from the AG’s office, contract with the Housing Partnership, which would then contract with the builders’ group to fix the homes.
They would then be sold and transferred to an eligible candidate.
Any revenues generated would stay within the revolving fund, Romaine said.
The supervisor said if the AG’s office rejects the appeal or is unresponsive, the town would then appeal to the governor’s office, contending a program such as Vacant to Vets is an ideal way to reclaim neighborhoods that were hurt by the housing crisis. And one that could be replicated elsewhere in the state.
“The banks helped create this mess, the attorney general found them liable; he issued hundreds of millions of dollars in fines. And we feel that fine money should be put back into the neighborhoods that the banks inflicted pain on,” Romaine said.
Top: Ed Romaine (at podium) is joined by other town officials and supporters of the proposed Vacant to Vets project to rehabilitate ‘zombie’ homes in town. (Michael White)