OLEAN — Olean took two steps to fight neighborhood blight this week.
On Wednesday, the state Attorney General’s Office announced a $100,000 grant for the city from the Zombies 2.0 funding round, which is providing $9 million to 48 municipalities to help address zombie properties. Another $50,000 was awarded to the city of Salamanca, as well.
“Too many communities throughout New York State are blighted by abandoned homes that decrease property values and threaten the safety of our neighborhoods,” said Attorney General Letitia James. “These grants will go a long way in supporting municipalities and ensuring they have the resources they need to combat this nuisance. Revitalizing our communities is always a priority and I am proud that my office can help turn these abandoned properties into valuable assets.”
Selected municipalities will receive grants ranging between $50,000 and $500,000 based on the size of the community, the scale and severity of their zombie problems, and their proposed use of such funds. These awards are a continuation of the 2016 Zombie Remediation and Prevention Initiative created by the Office of the New York Attorney General to address housing challenges, especially vacancy and blight; and to track-and-monitor vacant abandoned properties, to help these cities and towns to clear out zombie properties.
“It’s just another avenue for us to continue fighting blight in the city,” Olean Mayor Bill Aiello said.
Olean received a grant in 2016 during the first round of funding, with a focus on creating an inventory of zombie properties.
“We used it to fund the code enforcement office, it was used for attorneys’ work, it was used for tracking software and some equipment,” Aiello said, with a code enforcement worker hired to catalog.
Moving forward, the funding will keep that worker on the job as the city aims to put pressure on zombie property owners to rehabilitate or demolish empty and dilapidated structures.
“We’ll be able to use it to fund code enforcement again,” Aiello said. “It’s also for us to hire outside counsel.”
Salamanca officials reported in February they seek to inventory vacated, bank-owned and foreclosed properties in the city, similar to what Olean did after 2016. The grant will help fund staff and equipment to complete the inventory. Officials hope to use the database to help hold owners accountable for blighted properties, as well as keep an eye on opportunities to remedy issues. The city will be required to provide in-kind services including office equipment, vehicles and training for the grant.
The “Zombies 2.0” program is a result of the AG’s office securing a $500 million settlement with the Royal Bank of Scotland in 2018, over the bank’s deceptive practice and misrepresentations to investors involving mortgage-backed securities that lead to the financial crisis.
To be eligible, cities, towns and villages had to individually or for joint applications combined, have at least 5,000 residents and more than 100 vacant properties.
THE COMMON COUNCIL on Tuesday also allowed Aiello to sign off on transferring 1013 Washington St., 303 E. Elm St., and 405 S. Fourth St. from Cattaraugus County to the city.
The site on Washington Street was used as a methamphetamine lab in 2018, according to police records. The East Elm Street property was left behind as part of an estate and in poor condition, while the South Fourth Street site is adjacent to Forness Park and will be demolished for more parking at park ball games and events.
“We don’t want to lose traction,” said council President John Crawford, D-Ward 5, noting the difficulty in getting previous sites demolished. “We don’t want to bite off more than we can chew.”
In 2016, the city took title to more than a dozen similar houses from the county. While it took almost two years to begin demolition, all have since been demolished or transferred to new owners.
“It was what, 13? We don’t want to do that again,” said Alderman Paul Gonzalez, D-Ward 3, thankful only three properties were being taken on this time.
The city’s budget includes $55,000 for demolition of unsafe buildings.
Aldermen also lauded the efforts by the Cattaraugus County Land Bank to knock down other vacant structures, alleviating the need for the city to take on all of the projects on its own.