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Rochester Leads U.S. in "Zombie" Properties van Leen

A national housing report includes a dubious distinction for Rochester.

The analysis by RealtyTrac says Rochester led the nation in the third quarter for the share of so-called "zombie" property foreclosures as a percentage of all vacant properties. 

14-point 3 percent of Rochester homes in the foreclosure process were considered "zombie" properties in the past three months. Those are homes that are not occupied but have yet to be repossessed by the bank.

Ruhi Maker, a senior staff attorney at the Empire Justice Center in Rochester, calls the problem a perfect storm.

"A homeowner who can't afford the house; a bank that wants their money back from the homeowner while the homeowner is still living there; and when the homeowner can't live there,(they bank) decides, 'We don't want the house after all.' "

Maker says banks abandon city properties because they don't appeal to prospective homeowners who want to be in a better school district, or have other reasons for heading to the suburbs.

"You have too many houses in the city and not enough people wanting to live there; new choices for living in the suburbs and in the surrounding counties; lots of land, so you can keep building houses within a 20 minute commute. You essentially have a hollowing out of the city center."

She said this is an issue not only in Rochester but Buffalo, Schenectady, and even parts of Long Island.

RealtyTrac vice president Daren Blomquist said nationally, there are many vacant homes where the homeowners do not appear to be in financial stress. “Only 3 percent are in foreclosure or bank owned, and only 6 percent are underwater,” he said.

“More than 63 percent of these vacant homes are not even encumbered by a loan, owned free and clear by the owner,” Blomquist said in a written statement. “The fact that the homeowners are not selling given the recovering real estate market in most areas indicates that many of these properties are in poor condition and in neighborhoods that have been left behind by the housing recovery.”

Earlier this year, New York's Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman proposed a law that would make banks and other mortgage lenders responsible for maintaining properties abandoned after the start of a foreclosure. The state Legislature has yet to act on the proposal.

Beth Adams joined WXXI as host of Morning Edition in 2012 after a more than two-decade radio career. She was the longtime host of the WHAM Morning News in Rochester. Her career also took her from radio stations in Elmira, New York, to Miami, Florida.