DiNapoli: Audit Exposes Significant Management Issues With Tonawanda Housing Authority –

DiNapoli: Audit Exposes Significant Management Issues With Tonawanda Housing Authority

An audit of the Tonawanda Housing Authority (THA) has revealed inappropriate computer usage, inequitable tenant and applicant treatment, and high vacancy rates in public housing, according to New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

“The actions of certain Tonawanda housing authority employees are shameful,” said DiNapoli. “Management showed contempt for the neediest applicants and seemingly gave preferential treatment to others. For years, the authority has not operated in a fair and equitable, efficient or transparent manner and has not been fulfilling its duty to provide low-cost housing to this community.”

The authority, located in the city of Tonawanda in Erie County, manages a 257-unit apartment complex that consists of four main apartment buildings. DiNapoli noted both the longtime executive secretary and bookkeeper retired last year after approximately 25 years of service at the THA. The audit focused on the period prior to these retirements.

While examining tenant applications and existing tenant files during their fieldwork, DiNapoli’s auditors found hostile notes describing personal judgments of the respective applicants using vulgar language apparently made by THA staff. Also, during audit fieldwork, authority staff made derogatory statements regarding a tenant’s personal hygiene and asserted their preferences toward applicants who paid or would pay fair-market value rent.

Meanwhile, the THA maintained a consistently high vacancy rate (33 percent vacancy rate for senior housing and 9 percent for non-senior housing as of March 31, 2016). The March 2016 vacancy report provided to auditors indicated that the average vacancy period was two years, with three units remaining vacant for over eight years. As a result of these openings, the authority deprived eligible applicants of affordable housing and annually lost potential revenue that ranged from approximately $72,000 to $117,000.

The authority also fell short in its responsibility to provide adequate and safe low-rent housing for qualified individuals. DiNapoli’s auditors identified both tenants and tenant applicants that were not treated in a consistently fair and equitable manner, resulting in questionable application rejections and potential preferential treatment to others.

When questioned about the vacancies by the THA board of directors, the former executive secretary and bookkeeper often did not respond to requests for additional information, and at times the executive secretary provided inaccurate and unsubstantiated information.

In addition, auditors found the waitlists maintained by THA showed a variety of questionable practices. This included the bookkeeper failing to update six of the nine authority waitlists for a six-month period; several applicant appointments that were not called in waitlist order; and two applications that were omitted from the waitlist.

THA also failed to consistently conduct required background checks, credit checks and income verifications for all applications.

As a result of the audit, DiNapoli recommends the THA take immediate steps to ensure the board receives appropriate information, in a complete and accurate manner, so it can effectively monitor authority operations.

Additionally, the Comptroller recommended that officials adopt and implement written policies and procedures that address key components of the THA’s housing occupancy operations, including:

  • Uniform treatment of prospective tenant applications, background and credit checks, waitlist management, rent rate calculations, annual tenant application updates and income verifications;
  • Reapplication and hearing procedures for tenants with rejected or cancelled applications;
  • Maximizing apartment readiness and apartment showing protocols; and
  • Board monitoring and oversight of the housing occupancy operations and staff.

In a corresponding review of the THA’s information technology (IT) assets, auditors found major deficiencies in the authority’s IT security and instances of unacceptable computer usage.

For example, authority employees used computers to access multiple websites of a personal, nonbusiness or otherwise high-risk nature, including pornographic, social networking, auction and shopping.

Furthermore, auditors found indications of previous malware infections, and continued suspicious activity on the authority’s computers. These deficiencies could have compromised the personal, private and sensitive information of tenants maintained by the authority.

DiNapoli made a number of recommendations to the authority regarding its IT operations, including:

  • Ensure authority computers are not infected with malware and verify that any unauthorized software programs are removed;
  • Adopt a breach notification policy and implement a process for analyzing infected computers and determining the extent of incidents that occur;
  • Confirm all authority computers are running up-to-date antivirus software and are frequently scanned for viruses and other malware;
  • Adopt and enforce a computer and internet use policy that defines appropriate and prohibited activities when using authority computers and other IT assets; and
  • Provide IT security awareness training to all authority employees at least annually.

The THA board chairman and the current THA executive secretary agreed with the audit findings. A copy of the full audit report can be found at: http://www.osc.state.ny.us/localgov/audits/publicauth/2017/tonawanda-housing.htm

For access to state and local government spending, public authority financial data and information on 130,000 state contracts, visit Open Book New York. The easy-to-use website was created to promote transparency in government and provide taxpayers with better access to financial data.

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PathStone, NeighborWorks selected for grants totaling near $1M – www.rbj.net

PathStone, NeighborWorks selected for grants totaling near $1M

by: Velvet Spicer

Two local nonprofits will receive nearly $1 million in federal funding for affordable housing initiatives across the Greater Rochester Region.

PathStone Corp. will receive a grant in the amount of $587,500, while NeighborWorks Rochester will receive $376,000.

PathStone is a nonprofit community development and human service organization that has provided services to low-income families and economically depressed communities throughout the region for nearly 50 years. NeighborWorks America is a public nonprofit organization that for nearly 40 years has supported local solutions to community development and affordable housing in urban, suburban and rural communities in all 50 states by way of financial and grant support, training, technical assistance, organizational assessments, technology tools and other services.

“When families have access to affordable and safe housing, they can use more of their hard-earned paychecks to afford things like groceries, medicine and school supplies, improving their quality of life while benefiting our local and national economy,” said Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Perinton, in a statement. “Investments in organizations like PathStone and NeighborWorks help break the cycle of poverty and economic inequality that too often limits families across our country and Monroe County.”

The grants will support efforts to develop and preserve affordable housing, revitalize and sustain neighborhoods and create jobs in New York, Slaughter said. She also noted that President Trump has proposed cutting the Department of Housing and Urban Development by $6 billion, including the elimination of the NeighborWorks America program, which funded the local grants.

PathStone, NeighborWorks selected for grants totaling near $1M

Landlord tenant case prompts conflicting decisions – The Daily Record

Landlord tenant case prompts conflicting decisions

Attorney claims judge taking ‘unprecedented’ action

By: Bennett Loudon

After one of her rulings was overturned by Monroe County Court Judge Christopher S. Ciaccio, Rochester City Court Judge Ellen M. Yacknin issued a new decision that essentially overturned Ciaccio and reinstated her original finding.

“She’s absolutely defying the order from Judge Ciaccio,” said Andrew J. Dick, in-house counsel at Mark IV Enterprises, which operates Cornhill Landing apartments.

In January 2016, Cornhill went to court to evict a tenant and get a $4,735 judgment to collect unpaid rent, fees and attorney’s fees from the tenant who has never responded to the petition and never appeared in court on the case.

In February 2016, Yacknin granted the eviction warrant, but denied the money judgment because the tenant was never served personally with the notice.

‘All over the place’

Cornhill appealed Yacknin’s decision and, in February 2017, Ciaccio reversed Yacknin and sent the case back to her “for entry of a monetary judgment in favor of the petitioner with attorney’s fees, and for any further proceedings consistent with the decision of this court.”

Attorneys who frequently represent landlords in similar cases have applauded Ciaccio’s decision as “extremely significant.”

Historically, when a tenant can’t be located, leaving a summons with someone else, or “nail and mail” service, has not been allowed. But with Ciaccio’s decision, substituted service became acceptable in Monroe County.

“The City Court judges do not like the decision. They’ve made that known to me and to other attorneys, but it says what it says,” Dick said.

The old rule is based on the decision in the 1929 Fourth Department case In Re McDonald, which relied on statutes in the Civil Practice Act (CPA) that no longer exist. In 1963 the state Legislature enacted the Civil Practice Law and Rules to replace the (CPA).

This question has been argued in many local courts across the state, with differing results.

“Courts are all over the place on it,” Dick said.

Despite Ciaccio’s ruling, when the case was sent back down, Yacknin set out to determine whether Cornhill “has satisfied the legal prerequisites for the entry of a default money judgment.”

Yacknin wrote that Ciaccio’s decision only found that a default money judgment was not prohibited because of the way the notice was served on the tenant.

Ciaccio did not “consider whether petitioner satisfied the mandatory prerequisites for the entry of a default money judgment in this action,” Yacknin wrote in a footnote to her decision dated May 15.

“She’s in violation of the order and it’s unprecedented for a trial court judge to do something like this,” Dick said.

“Any issue he did or did not address is really none of her business. The order from the court is to enter judgment, period. She can question him, but she cannot defy him and she is defying him.”

Due diligence

Yacknin ruled that Cornhill’s efforts to personally serve the tenant were inadequate. She wrote that “nail and mail” service must be preceded by “a minimum of three personal service attempts.”

Two of those attempts must be “on dates and times when it can reasonably be expected that the person to be served will not be at work or in transit,” Yacknin wrote.

Cornhill’s “prior personal service attempts failed to satisfy this prerequisite for due diligence,” she wrote.

According to the process server’s affidavit, service was attempted at the tenant’s home at: 10:25 a.m., Jan. 19, 2016; 4:20 p.m., Jan. 20, 2016; and at 6:36 p.m., Jan. 20, 2016.

“All three attempts at personal service were at times that a person could normally be expected to be at work or in transit from work. As such, these attempts were deficient as a matter of law to satisfy the due diligence requirements,” Yacknin wrote.

Cornhill’s personal service attempts also failed to comply with a second essential condition required by New York appellate courts. A process server must make “genuine inquiries” to find out where the person to be served works, so they can try to serve them at their workplace, Yacknin wrote.

The server also must try to talk to neighbors to find out where the party might be found.

The process server’s affidavit “is devoid of any indication that he made any inquiries of neighbors to attempt to learn where respondent worked or where she might be found. The affidavit does not indicate that he asked petitioner where respondent worked,” Yacknin wrote.

“For this reason as well, petitioner failed to exercise the due diligence necessary to entitle it to a default money judgment against respondent following conspicuous service of process,” she wrote in denying the request for a default money judgment.

Dick said he is looking into how to address Yacknin’s latest decision.

“But it’s not going to go unanswered,” he said.

Landlord tenant case prompts conflicting decisions

New York enclave with Nazi roots agrees to change policies – The Daily Record

New York enclave with Nazi roots agrees to change policies

by: Frank Eltman

YAPHANK, N.Y. (AP) — An enclave of former summer bungalows, where Nazi sympathizers once proudly marched near streets named for Adolf Hitler and other Third Reich figures, is being forced to end policies that limited ownership to people of German descent.

The German American Settlement League, which once welcomed tens of thousands in the 1930s to pro-Nazi marches at Camp Siegfried on eastern Long Island, has settled an anti-discrimination case brought by New York state. The settlement calls for a change in the league’s leadership and adherence to all state and federal housing laws.

Many residents in the tiny community of about 40 homes that is a small part of the rural hamlet of Yaphank declined to speak on the record, but those who did disputed their community is tainted by discrimination.

“There’s a mixed bag; it’s not like it was,” said Fred Stern, a member of the league’s board and a 40-year resident, who conceded the community was once primarily occupied by those of German descent. “It’s not like whatever they’re saying. If you went to every house and asked people’s nationality, it wouldn’t be any different than any other neighborhood.”

Kaitlyn Webber told a television interviewer that her “family’s always been very open. We’ve never had any issues with anyone discriminating against anyone up here.”

The homes, which stretch down a narrow street called Private Road and surround a large grassy ballfield along Schiller Court, are a combination of small bungalows and larger suburban-type ranches. Lawns are carefully landscaped and mailboxes — many with German surnames — sit street-side in the curbless enclave.

News accounts recall a groundswell of Nazism in the enclave in the years before the start of World War II. Camp Siegfried, where the homes stand today, was sponsored by the German-American Bund to promote Hitler, although many at the time also voraciously expressed loyalty to the United States.

Trains from New York City’s Penn Station were often jammed with people who traveled 60 miles (96 kilometers) east to Yaphank. A New York Times story from August 1938 reported 40,000 people had attended the annual German Day festivities at Camp Siegfried.

Swastikas were commonplace, including on some of the homes in the enclave at the time, said Geri Solomon, archivist at Hofstra University. “Some of the photos I have seen are kind of amazing,” Solomon said.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said a 2016 settlement of a federal lawsuit brought by two former residents, who claimed The German American Settlement League policies hindered their attempts to sell their homes, called for an end to discriminatory practices. That settlement paid the former residents, who eventually did sell and moved out of state, $175,000.

Despite that agreement, Schneiderman found the league “continued to make new membership and property re-sale within the GASL community unreasonably difficult.”

The league owns the land on which the homes are situated and leases the property to homeowners, Schneiderman said. State investigators found that the league prohibited public advertisement of properties for sale. Members seeking to sell their homes could only announce a listing in person at member meetings or through internal flyers and meeting minutes circulated to the existing membership.

Stern, the league’s board member, conceded that much of the real estate turnover through the years had taken place by word of mouth. There was no need to advertise a sale, he said, because “everybody knew when a house would become available.” He blamed the complaints by the couple who brought the federal lawsuit on sour grapes, contending they had asked too much money for their home and that was the reason it didn’t initially sell.

Stern said homes in the community range in price from about $95,000 for a small bungalow to $300,000 or more.

An attorney for the couple involved in the 2016 settlement declined to comment on the attorney general’s announcement.

Schneiderman’s settlement with the league calls for the immediate replacement of the organization’s leadership, and requires it to regularly report compliance.

An attorney representing the league did not return emails seeking comment.

New York enclave with Nazi roots agrees to change policies

Did you know? Facts about Rochester’s housing market – Democrat & Chronicle

Did you know? Facts about Rochester’s housing market

by: Sean Lahman

An analysis of statewide data by USA TODAY Network journalists across New York found that upstate’s housing market is still trying to recover value lost during the Great Recession. But even when the market hit bottom upstate, buyers and sellers were still finding each other, and there are plenty of stories in the numbers and in the market.

The data includes some fascinating statistics about the housing market in Monroe County.

Rising values

► Did you know that home values are rising fastest in Clarkson?

Five towns where home values are rising

(median sales price 2016 vs 2015, GRAR)
+13.1% Clarkson
9.9% Ogden/Spencerport
7.8% Mendon/Honeoye Falls
7.4% Henrietta
5.7% Penfield

Most expensive home sales

► Did you know that the most expensive home sold in Monroe County in 2016 was in Brighton?

(2016 transactions in Monroe County, staff research)
$2,685,000 195 Sandringham Road (Brighton)
$1,750,000 630 Rock Beach Road (Irondequoit)
$1,400,000 3 Taylors Rise (Brighton)
$1,250,000 2185 Manitou Road (Ogden)
$1,185,000 49 Knollwood Drive (Pittsford)

Sales prices by town

 Did you know that the highest median sales price for homes in Monroe County was Pittsford?

Median sales price for local towns (Q1 2017, Greater Rochester Area Realtors, aka GRAR)

$285,000 Pittsford
250,000 Mendon/Honeoye Falls
209,900 Rush
206,500 Riga/Churchville
173,250 Webster

Hottest markets

► Did you know that the highest sales volume was in the city of Rochester?

(based on 2016 sales volume, GRAR)
1,538 City of Rochester
1,363 Greece
917 Irondequoit
733 Perinton/Fairport
549 Penfield

Hottest city neighborhoods

► Did you know that the hottest city neighborhood for home sales is Culver-Winton? ​

(Median listing prices, Q1 2017, Zillow Research)
$99,900 Culver-Winton
59,900 19th Ward
58,000 Maplewood

Most expensive towns for renters

Did you know that Webster is the most expensive town for renters?

(median monthly rent for single family home, Zillow)
$1,718 Webster
1,456 Henrietta
1,359 Greece
1,309 Irondequoit

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VA Secretary Announces Intention to Expand Mental Health Care to Former Service members With Other-than-honorable Discharges and in Crisis

VA Secretary Announces Intention to Expand Mental Health Care
to Former Service members With Other-than-honorable Discharges
and in Crisis

WASHINGTON – Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Dr. David J. Shulkin while testifying in a House Veterans Affairs Committee hearing on March 7, 2017, announced his intention to expand provisions for urgent mental health care needs to former service members with other-than-honorable (OTH) administrative discharges. This move marks the first time a VA Secretary has implemented an initiative specifically focused on expanding access to assist former OTH service members who are in mental health
distress and may be at risk for suicide or other adverse behaviors.

“The president and I have made it clear that suicide prevention is one of our top priorities,” Shulkin said. “We know the rate of death by suicide among Veterans who do not use VA care is increasing at a greater rate than Veterans who use VA care. This is a national emergency that requires bold action. We must and we will do all that we can to help former service members who may be at risk. When we say even one Veteran suicide is one too many, we mean it.”

It is estimated that there are a little more than 500,000 former service members with OTH discharges. As part of the proposal, former OTH service members would be able to seek treatment at a VA emergency department, Vet Center or contact the Veterans Crisis Line.

“Our goal is simple: to save lives,” Shulkin continued. “Veterans who are in crisis should receive help immediately. Far too many Veterans have fallen victim to suicide, roughly 20 every day. Far too many families are left behind asking themselves what more could have been done. The time for action is now.”

Before finalizing the plan in early summer, Shulkin will meet with Congress, Veterans Service Organizations and Department of Defense officials to determine the best way forward to get these former service members the care they need.

“I look forward to working with leaders like Congressman Mike Coffman from Colorado, who has been a champion for OTH service members,” Shulkin added. “I am grateful for his commitment to our nation’s Veterans and for helping me better understand the urgency of getting this right.”

Veterans in crisis should call the Veterans Crisis Line at 800-273-8255 (press 1), or text 838255.

Cadillac Hotel could go in new direction – Democrat & Chronicle

Cadillac Hotel could go in new direction

by: David Riley

A downtown hotel that often has served as a temporary home for homeless people may become an apartment building.

Mayor Lovely Warren is asking City Council to endorse an application for $500,000 in state funding to help turn the Cadillac Hotel into 56 market-rate apartments.

The roughly 90-year-old, eight-story building is at the corner of Chestnut and Elm streets downtown, near the city’s Midtown redevelopment project.

In a letter to council this week, Warren wrote that the developer wants to turn floors two through eight into apartments, with six studios and two one-bedroom units on each floor. The first floor would include 2,837 square feet of retail space and a lobby.

The project would cost $7.9 million, according to the mayor’s letter.

“The opportunity to redevelop the Cadillac Hotel building would serve to further revitalize Chestnut Street and contribute to increasing vitality in the East End,” Warren wrote.

It was not immediately clear who the developer is. Warren said Tuesday that the city could not release a name, but wanted to show support for the project in its early stages.

The company is listed in Warren’s letter as Chestnut Elm LLC. City spokeswoman Jessica Alaimo said Ron Zour is acting as property manager and development partner for the project.

Zour could not be reached for comment on Tuesday. An employee at the hotel declined to comment.

The Cadillac is owned by Ramji Inc., according to county records.

Warren has asked City Council to endorse a Rochester Economic Development Corp. application for funding from the New York Main Streets program to support the project. The corporation is a nonprofit closely tied to city government — its president is Baye Muhammad, commissioner of business and neighborhood development.

The developer has a purchase contract for the hotel, and has had discussions with the nearby Eastman School of Music about making apartments attractive to its students, Warren wrote.

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Housing Regulator Is Pushed to Crack Down on Sales of Foreclosed Properties – nytimes.com

Housing Regulator Is Pushed to Crack Down on Sales of Foreclosed Properties

by: Alexandra Stevenson and Matthew Goldstein

Lawmakers are pressing the nation’s housing regulator over the sale of thousands of foreclosed houses to investment firms that have pitched the promise of homeownership to people unable to get a traditional mortgage.

Some local authorities and regulators are taking legal action against several of these firms, accusing them of engaging in predatory business practices by reselling these often rundown houses “as is” through rent-to-own and other seller-financed transactions, sometimes known as contracts for deed.

Since the 2008 housing crisis, seller financing has become a lucrative business model as banks have largely stopped lending to lower-income families and the government has tried to sell a huge inventory of foreclosed homes.

Two of the nation’s largest firms in this business — Vision Property Management and Harbour Portfolio Advisors — have come under federal and regulatory scrutiny after a series of articles on them in The New York Times.

On Thursday, Representative Elijah E. Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, who sits on the House Committee on Oversight and Government, wrote to the director of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, urging the regulator to stop Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the big government-controlled mortgage finance companies, from selling foreclosed homes to these firms.

Other lawmakers have raised concerns, too. During a Senate hearing on the future of Fannie and Freddie on Thursday, the F.H.F.A. director, Melvin Watt, was questioned about the sale of foreclosed houses to firms using contract for deed.

Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio, told Mr. Watt that the agency should prohibit Fannie and Freddie from selling nonperforming mortgages and houses to firms looking to resell them through contract for deed. Mr. Watt promised that the housing agency would act to limit those sales.

“It would have to be on a going-forward basis, but we are actively looking at that issue now,” Mr. Watt told the Senate Banking Committee.

After the housing market collapsed nearly a decade ago, Fannie resold about 400,000 homes to investors, including more than 10,000 to firms that specialize in seller-financed deals. Some of those homes were sold in bulk transactions at rock-bottom prices. Fannie stopped such bulk sales in 2014. But firms continue to buy individual homes from Fannie on the open market.

In all, Fannie has resold 1.2 million homes since 2009, the worst year of the crisis.

For several months, Mr. Cummings, the ranking member on the oversight committee, has been focused on Vision Property Management, a rent-to-own company based in Columbia, S.C., which owns dozens of houses in Baltimore and more than 6,000 nationwide.

The Maryland congressman has been demanding documents from Vision since January, saying that he is concerned that it is duping poor consumers into rent-to-own contracts that become money traps. His office has spoken to Vision at least twice, according to correspondence the office made public, but those conversations have yielded little.

On Thursday, Mr. Cummings wrote to Vision and its chief executive, citing “grave concerns about the physical and financial well-being of tenants” with leases from Vision.

Mr. Cummings said Vision’s “limited document production to date has heightened concerns about the potential harm Vision may be inflicting on families in Maryland and throughout the United States.”

Valerie L. Hletko, a lawyer for Vision, said “the letter’s escalated rhetoric does nothing to assist Americans without access to traditional mortgage loans to achieve homeownership, which Vision works to do every day.”

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Foreclosure activity drops to lowest level since 2005 Market sees elevated share of repeat disclosures – housingwire.com

Foreclosure activity drops to lowest level since 2005

Market sees elevated share of repeat disclosures

by: Kelsey Ramirez

Foreclosure filings including default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions, dropped in April to the lowest level since 2005, according to the April 2017 U.S. Foreclosure Market report from ATTOM Data Solutions, a multi-sourced property database.

A reported 77,049 filings were recorded in April, down 7% from March and down a full 23% from April 2016 to the lowest level since November 2005.

“Foreclosure activity continued to search for a new post-recession floor in April thanks in large part to the above-par performance of mortgages originated in the past seven years,” ATTOM senior vice president Daren Blomquist said. “Meanwhile we are seeing an elevated share of repeat foreclosures on homeowners who often fell into default several years ago but have not been able to avoid foreclosure despite the housing recovery.”

Nationwide, one out of every 1,723 housing units had a foreclosure filing in April. However, in some states, that rate was much higher.

New Jersey held the highest number of filings with one out of every 562 housing units, followed by Delaware with one in every 706, Maryland with one in every 776, Connecticut with one in every 956 and Illinois with one in every 1,083.

In fact in New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts foreclosure filings actually increased by 1%, 29% and 3% respectively.

However, a new analysis of repeat foreclosure starts, shows them increasing. A repeat foreclosure start is defined as a foreclosure start filed on a property address-owner last name combination in 2016 with a previous foreclosure start on the same property address-owner combination in the last 10 years.

ATTOM studied five markets with its new analysis, showing the highest share of repeat foreclosures occurred in New York City at 54%, followed by Los Angeles at 39%, Miami-Dade County at 32%, Maricopa County, Arizona at 26% and Essex County, New Jersey at 20%.

A total of 34,085 properties started the foreclosure process in April, down 6% from the previous month and down 22% from last year. This is well below the pre-recession average of 77,000 foreclosure starts from 2005 to 2007.

Completed foreclosures came in at 25,990 for the month, down 9% from March and down 22% from last year to the lowest level since February 2015. This is just above the pre-recession average of 25,796 per month.

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Tackling Monroe County’s “zombie homes” – 13wham.com

Tackling Monroe County’s “zombie homes”

by: WHAM

Monroe County, N.Y. – It has been one year since Monroe County formed a task force to decrease the number of “zombie homes,” or vacant properties.

Now, that task force is taking action with two initiatives that were announced Friday morning.

The county’s vision is to increase the vibrancy of communities and part of that is by working together.

The task force will create a homeowners fair, which will be a proactive approach to help prevent people from losing their homes.

The county also wants to create a hub where banks and property owners can work together.

If for some reason someone has to walk away from their home, the task force can steer would-be vacant homes to non-profit groups for better use or for people in need.

“I think anyone who has ever lived near or next to one of these properties has experienced the loitering issues,” said Monroe County Clerk Adam Bello.

Rochester City Council member Jackie Ortiz agrees.

“The potential for drug activity and just the blight that it causes in the neighborhood is bringing down property value,” said Ortiz. “That’s exactly why we have this task force.”

So far, recommendations were made for 24 vacant properties and progress has been made on 17 of those homes.

The task force is also asking for the community to be involved. To report or make a recommendation on homes in the area, call the hotline at 800-342-3736.

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