WXXI AM News

Neighbors for Neighbors program targets zombie homes

Aug 2, 2018

Neighbors have more tools to renovate and fill empty homes in their community.

Mayor Lovely Warren announced a new program Thursday that allows city residents the opportunity to purchase a neighboring “zombie” or vacant home, receive a subsidy to fix it up and then rent it out at an affordable rate for families.

The program is called Neighbors for Neighbors. The City of Rochester has partnered with the Rochester Land Bank Corporation to administer the program and it’s funded through a state grant.

Neighbors for Neighbors can reduce some of the zombie houses around Rochester, Warren says. There are more than 2,100 vacant homes in the area, the City of Rochester estimates.

“When we say a zombie home, it’s a home that it’s in flux,” Warren explained. “It hasn’t been foreclosed on. It is just sitting empty. The bank owns it but no one is investing in it; the homeowner has already moved out but it’s going through this legal process.”

Officials say that zombie homes can reduce the value of nearby houses and pose as magnets for crime. Warren says neighbors have a vested interest in repairing these old, abandoned homes and it can actually be better for renters too if they have landlords who live nearby.

“When you live in a neighborhood and you’re able to invest in it, you’re able to recognize and pay attention to if it’s not being upkept by the tenant, your’re recognize if things need to be done because your neighbors are going to knock on your door,” she said.

The program specifically focuses on low income families. To be considered for renting, a family must earn less than 80 percent of the area median income. Warren says typically families can have a hard time finding affordable units with enough space to fit the whole family. Through Neighbors for Neighbors, they would only pay up to 30 percent of their income to rent the home:

“This property and this program allows for families to not spend more than one-third of their income on the rent. Many people that have challenges or live in poverty in our community they spend more than a third of their income on rent.”  

Warren says this allows families to have more disposable income to use as needed on emergencies, future savings and even just eating better.

Cynthia Silver is one of the first to go through the program. She purchased an empty brick house on Silver Street in the city’s Susan B. Anthony neighborhood, saying she’s excited to fix up the home but also give a family the chance to move into the community.

“My house is about 10 houses down,” she said. “I’ve been 8 years and I’ve seen these houses and they’re wonderful.”

She says she plans to keep much of the original historic design. It’s well over 100 years old.

“We love our diverse neighborhood,” she said. “These have been abandoned for a while. And people have lived her for generastion and had to deal with this. “

She says but now the homes will be cleaned up, helping neighbors and renters alike.