Battling Zombie Homes…and Plywood

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Abandoned-houses, So-called “zombie homes” are a widespread problem facing anyone working to combat urban blight still lingering after the housing crisis and the Great Recession. The term “zombie home” refers to dwellings that are abandoned, but which are also caught up in the foreclosure process. Neither occupied nor ready to be sold to a new owner, they simply drag down property values and contribute to blight-related issues such as crime and fire hazards. But when it comes to zombie homes, boarding them up is neither the only, nor the preferred, approach.

 

In June 2016, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo set up a consumer hotline to take reports of zombie properties, of which there are an estimated 6,000 within the state of New York alone. According to a yearlong Newsday analysis vacant properties cost Long Island at least $295 million in depreciated home values. A new article published by the Long Island Business News  takes a look at how New York is tackling the problem, including recently introduced legislation to ban the use of plywood to board up abandoned properties.

 

Assemblyman James Skoufis (D-Orange County) introduced the legislation, saying, “When you have unsightly strips of plywood, it becomes an issue for all of the neighbors. It becomes a safety issue. It’s a big neon sign saying no-one lives here. It’s also a property value issue.”

While plywood had traditionally been a cheap and easy solution for securing abandoned properties, it has never been a particularly effective one. Now, however, there are more effective—and less unsightly—options, such as polycarbonate. Traditionally used in airplane windows, polycarbonate can also be used in lieu of plywood, a process known as “clearboarding.”

“It’s virtually unbreakable,” Skoufis said.

According to SecureView, a company that markets polycarbonate, clearboarding a home typically costs around twice what it would cost to secure a house with plywood, including labor. However, the polycarbonate is considerably more durable and doesn’t make it as apparent that the property is vacant. “We had a foreclosure crisis. Now we’re going through a blight crisis,” said Robert Klein, founder and chairman of Cleveland-based Community Blight Solutions. “When you put up clear polycarbonate, it’s much more secure. It does not look like a vacant property. It looks like an occupied property.”

The move away from plywood has been coming for a while now. In November 2016, Fannie Mae announced it would allow mortgage servicers to use clearboarding on vacant homes in pre-foreclosure. In January 2017, Ohio Governor John Kasich signed off on a law banning the use of plywood on vacant properties.

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