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Fight Against Urban Blight Finds Unexpected Ally

The topic of zombie homes comes up often here on DS News, ranging from fast-track foreclosure legislation to rules about clearboarding and plywood bans. In February, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that the state was buying up distressed mortgages in high foreclosure areas, hoping to help keep homeowners in their homes and avoid the spread of more zombie properties. Now the fight against zombie homes has found an unexpected new ally: law students.

The Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns and the Western New York Law Center recently announced a new partnership with Columbia Law School to help municipalities within Erie County track and monitor zombie foreclosures. The partnership will enlist Columbia Law School students to lend their research skills to local municipalities in the fight against zombie homes, providing resources those cities and towns might not otherwise have.

The partnership is the first of its kind, according to the announcement.

Here’s how it will work: municipalities will be able to submit a request on a specific vacant property via a website established for this specific purpose. Columbia Law Students will then research that home’s foreclosure status and report back with their findings. The research time will also count toward Columbia’s mandatory 40-hour pro bono requirements for law students.

“This new partnership with Columbia Law School is a substantial step towards riding communities of vacant and abandoned properties," said Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns. "There is a clear need for resources for our smaller municipalities, many of who want to take action on zombie properties, but don't have the means to do it. Working with the bright students at Columbia Law School will give these municipal leaders the necessary information to track down banks and ensure these properties are being maintained."

“We are pleased to partner in this innovative initiative with Erie County Clerk Michael P. Kearns and the Western New York Law Center with Joseph Kelemen and Kate Lockhart," said Conrad Johnson, Clinical Professor of Law at Columbia University. "Zombie properties are a blighting influence throughout New York. By participating in this program, students at Columbia Law School can make a positive difference while fulfilling their responsibilities to serve the public."

"We applaud the efforts of Columbia University in extending their expertise to Erie County," said Robert Klein, Founder and Chairman of SecureView and Community Blight Solutions. "We hope that they will use free services like Compliance Connections to aid in their quest to rid Western New York of these nightmare neighborhoods. These Columbia Law students join fellow CU alumnae like Adam Zaranko, President of the New York Land Bank Association, and our own staff here at Community Blight Solutions, in the fight against blight.”

The New York towns of Boston and Evans are the first signed on to participate in the pilot program.

About Author: David Wharton

David Wharton, Editor-in-Chief at the Five Star Institute, is a graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington, where he received his B.A. in English and minored in Journalism. Wharton has nearly 20 years' experience in journalism and previously worked at Thomson Reuters, a multinational mass media and information firm, as Associate Content Editor, focusing on producing media content related to tax and accounting principles and government rules and regulations for accounting professionals. Wharton has an extensive and diversified portfolio of freelance material, with published contributions in both online and print media publications. He can be reached at [email protected].

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