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Vacant building program 1 (copy)

Two buildings on State Street are labelled as severely hazardous for emergency responders by the Auburn Fire Department.

Auburn has been awarded funding from the state attorney general's office to help the city address the issue of abandoned properties.

A total of $12.6 million has been distributed to 76 cities, towns and villages statewide to help them with "zombie homes," vacant properties that are not cared for during foreclosure proceedings.

The funds have been awarded through the Zombie Remediation and Prevention Initiative that was established in July, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced Tuesday. These funds are available due to a $3.2 billion settlement agreement with Morgan Stanley that was negotiated in February, according to the AG's office.

Auburn was awarded $138,000. As of June, the city has around 230 entries on its vacant building registry, though City Manager Jeff Dygert said it's likely there are more that are not included on the list.

It's estimated that there are 16,000 zombie properties across the state, according to the attorney general's office.

Auburn's allocation represents the full amount that was applied for by the city's Department of Planning and Economic Development. With the grant, city officials said the funding will be used to support legal counsel and hire part-time enforcement staff to specifically deal with vacant building issues.

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Dygert said the city received notification of the grant award Tuesday. He said the city is still waiting for direction from the state on when and how to use the grant funding as well as whether the money can be used for all vacant property issues or only those that deal with parcels in foreclosure.

"It's an issue that the fire department and code enforcement office have struggled with and we have tried to do our best to keep our neighborhoods clean and attractive," he said. "This will be a big help."

Other cities to receive funding include Buffalo, Cortland, Oswego, Rochester and Syracuse. These funds will be used to bolster housing code enforcement and legal enforcement capacity to make sure banks and mortgage companies comply with the law, the AG's office said in Tuesday's statement. 

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation will oversee the remediation initiative, according to the AG. LISC is a national community development group that specializes in affordable housing, economic development and community revitalization.

The agency will provide technical assistance to each municipality to implement remediation plans, the AG's office stated.

"We can't wait to work with mayors and supervisors and their communities, in places urban, suburban and rural, all over New York state," said Denise Scott, LISC's executive vice president for programs. "Together, we'll fight the blight!"

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Staff writer Greg Mason can be reached at (315) 282-2239 or greg.mason@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @CitizenMason.

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