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AUBURN — As one of 48 New York municipalities to receive state grant funding to tackle "zombie homes" or vacant properties, Auburn is planning on creating more affordable housing.

At Thursday's city council meeting, Jennifer Haines, Auburn's director of planning and economic development, announced that the city will receive $142,500 through the Local Initiatives Support Corporation over two years. The grant will be used to put pressure on banks and mortgage companies that own Auburn properties to comply with city code and properly maintain their properties. 

This is the second round of grant funding dedicated to tackling vacant properties. Dubbed "Zombie 2.0," the grant initiative will provide up to $9 million to New York municipalities. Auburn was also a recipient of the initiative's first round that was awarded in 2016, although a grant agreement was signed by Auburn in early 2017.

There are approximately 208 vacant properties in Auburn, the city's department of planning and economic development told The Citizen Friday via email. Since the initiative's first round, that number has decreased from 236. 

To help create affordable housing in Auburn, the city has teamed up with Homsite Fund Inc., a non-profit community housing development agency in Auburn. Together, the partners will "fast track the sale and promote incentives for a rehabbed property to be sold to eligible homeowners through an acquisition rehab grant from New York State," the department said.

The city's assistant corporation counsel, Nate Garland, who's been named the program's "Zombie Coordinator," will work with Auburn's planning department and Homsite Fund to review vacant homes and determine any candidates eligible for the acquisition rehab program. Garland will also explore any requests of property sales to Homsite Fund.

According to city officials, a strengthened code enforcement department had increased its number of property inspections and violation write-ups. Since then, 34 vacant properties have shown efforts to close violations and nine violation-related court cases have been settled, generating $39,100 in civil penalties or fines. The Zombie 2.0 grant will complement these efforts, along with the city's new cleanup crew that cuts grass and removes snow at vacant properties. 

Zombie 2.0's funding is a result of a $500 million settlement that the New York Attorney General's Office secured from a case with the Royal Bank of Scotland in 2018. 

A resolution will appear before the city council next week to formally accept the grant and to authorize Mayor Michael Quill to sign the grant agreement. 

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Staff writer Dan Orzechowski can be reached at (315) 282-2239 or dan.orzechowski@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @OrzechowskiDan.

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