Sullivan County Land Bank Kicks Off Demolitions

May 29, 2018

The Sullivan County Land Bank is set to have a few blighted properties knocked down this week. On Monday, officials stood near two houses that will be the first demolitions of the land bank’s new initiative.

Land bank officials were among those gathered on High Street in the Village of Monticello, in front of the first house set to be demolished as part of the Sullivan County Land Bank’s initiatives in both Monticello and Liberty. Freda Eisenberg is chair of the Sullivan County Land Bank Corporation’s Board of Directors.

“For High Street, it means a shot at revitalization, a real shot at revitalization. High Street, in particular, is, we’ve chosen it as one of our targets because it’s a visible location. People live here but other people travel across High Street to get to government center, to get to the Short Line bus terminal,” says Eisenberg. “Driving down High Street is an impression to outside visitors on Monticello and the county at large, so cleaning that up is, it’s a great thing for the county because we really are working on our image.”

The High Street properties are about one mile from Resorts World Catskills, a casino that opened earlier this year. Sullivan County Manager Josh Potosek:

“There’s obviously a need for housing, too, as well,” says Potosek. “So for people working in the casino, the resort, the new water park, Yo1, they’re having trouble finding places to live, so a land bank can serve a small role in that where there’s going to be single houses available for single-family occupied homes.”

The land bank’s mission is to acquire tax delinquent, foreclosed, vacant and abandoned properties, an important tool, says Potosek, in redeveloping urban, neglected areas.

“There’s an inequity and a gap there with what developers are willing to pay to rehab a building versus what they’re going to get in a return, so that’s where the land bank can step in with grant money from the state attorney general’s office and the county funding. They can get the building stabilized and then developers or single homeowners can actually afford to do some minor rehabs and afford the space,” Potosek says. “So, on top of all the demolition, I think that the building here you saw today was a vacant building that’s been burned, so to get rid of some of the blight that can stabilize neighborhoods and have people want to come live there. People aren’t going to want to necessarily live next to a burned down vacant building that’s been vacant for four years. So I think it’s crucially important for our village to give them some support, get them developing almost as we’re seeing in the other parts of the county.”

The Sullivan County Land Bank was incorporated in February 2017. Eisenberg says that when she and her colleagues were looking into the creation of a land bank, they visited Newburgh Community Land Bank officials for input. Eisenberg says there is a facet of the Newburgh program that was attractive for Sullivan County  — the way they sell their properties to screened developers.

“So someone wants to come in and buy property, it’s different than what would happen in auction where it just goes to the highest bidder and no questions asked,” says Eisenberg. “With the land bank process you can prioritize someone who’s going to come in and finish fixing up the property and live in it and be part of the community, and that’s really what we want to do.”

Yet Newburgh, whose land bank program is larger than Sullivan’s, has more types of housing that could be worth rehabilitating than in Sullivan.

“Some of the housing stock in Newburgh is a little more solid and older than those in Sullivan County. So you might want to use a little more grant funding to rehabilitate and save a brick townhouse than you would a ‘50s ranch home,” Eisenberg says. “So we might wind up with a few more demolitions than they’re doing in Newburgh.”

Luis Alvarez is Sullivan County chairman.

“So for us to sell Sullivan County, we have to sell the beauty of Sullivan County,” Alvarez says. “We have to get rid of these properties like this, put something there so when you drive down this road, and you look at this, you say, wow, this is the place I want to live, this is the place, I want to be here. And that’s what we can do through the land bank.”

The Sullivan County land bank has nine properties slated for demolition and four for rehabilitations. Sullivan’s was the 19th land bank approved in New York.