The newly established Sullivan County Land Bank is trying to resurrect 13 blighted properties in Monticello and Liberty before those properties' conditions begin to drag down the values of other homes in their neighborhoods.
Land bank officials are also trying to get property tax revenue back from these properties that have been drains on the community for years.
They gathered outside one of the land bank's first projects, a two-story home on High Street in Monticello that is falling apart.
"OK. Good," next-door neighbor Chenzui Pang said smiling. "Take her down. Good."
Pang said he would often hear a consistent "bang, bang, bang" noise from the vacant home, which made him concerned about safety in the neighborhood, as well as home values and tax revenue. But on Tuesday morning, he just heard celebration out front of the crumbling High Street home, which county officials said is going to be demolished in the coming days.
The land bank has recently acquired 13 abandoned or foreclosed properties in both Monticello (10 properties) and Liberty. Four of the homes are slated for renovation, according to a press packet given out at the announcement. The rest are going to be demolished.
The New York Attorney General's Office recently gave the land bank $920,000 in grant money to do environmental testing, demolitions and renovations that the average house flipper probably would not want to do.
"The private market isn't going to accommodate that kind of investment at this time," said land bank board chairperson Freda Eisenberg.
If a private contractor were to attempt to rehabilitate a property like the one on High Street, it would cost -- in some cases -- more to demolish the home than to build a new home.
In the case of a land bank like Sullivan County's, grants are used to fund those massive additional expenses.
"Fifty to eighty thousand dollars just to take it down," Eisenberg said when asked to approximate the price of demolition.
Eisenberg described the problem as if it were a disease.
"We've looked at properties in neighborhoods that were otherwise stable, and [we thought] if we just address these one or two pieces of blight, maybe we can stem further deterioration," Eisenberg said. "Obviously, we're trying to get all of it, but we have to be strategic."
While many land banks can acquire land to bring a necessary service or business to an area -- like, say, a grocery store -- Eisenberg said the state is requiring new land banks like hers to focus just on housing. She said the land bank's board is just fine with that restriction.
The land bank expects more grant money and a handful more homes in the coming year.
The money comes from cash settlements won by the Attorney General's office from banks due to misconduct that caused America's housing crisis in the mid-2000s.