Hails Passage of Legislation Echoing Provisions Called for In Higgins Legislation
Washington, D.C. – Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-27) today applauded the passage of the Neighborhood Stabilization Act of 2008, key housing stimulus legislation to address the vacant housing problem in places like Buffalo, Cheektowaga, Lackawanna, Jamestown and Dunkirk and other surrounding towns. Higgins spoke on the House floor in support of the bill, which echoes provisions Higgins’ pushed for in legislation he drafted, H.R. 3498, the Neighborhood Reclamation and Revitalization Act.
“The passage of this legislation is a victory for cities across the country facing vacant and abandoned housing crises. I am encouraged that the work my colleagues and I have done succeeded in bringing the issue of vacant housing to the forefront of debate in Washington; it is an issue Western New York badly needs to have addressed at the federal level,” said Higgins, Co-Chair of the Congressional Older Cities Task Force, who has also been working closely on this issue locally with County Legislator Robert Reynolds’ Distressed Properties Committee.
The City of Buffalo, Cheektowaga and many surrounding towns in Western New York are experiencing a vacant housing crisis. It is estimated that the City of Buffalo has approximately 20,000 vacant residential properties alone, while Chautauqua County has an estimated 10,000 vacant properties.
The legislation passed today provides $15 billion in loans and grants for state and local governments to acquire vacant, foreclosed homes. Under the bill, local leaders could apply for zero interest loans with HUD to purchase and rehabilitate vacant, foreclosed homes for the purpose of making them ready for occupancy once again. Grant funds would be used for incidental costs incurred after purchase. Local leaders can also use grant funds to demolish vacant foreclosed homes only if the Secretary for Housing and Urban Development determines that the neighborhood where the housing is located has a high incidence of vacant and abandoned housing or other structures and is experiencing a significant decline in population.
“Too many neighborhoods seem to have lost hope due to the problems incumbent to vacant housing. The tools provided to communities in this bill, giving a short-term boost in resources, will help local governments gain some footing in fighting the scourge that vacant housing wreaks,” Higgins said.
The House today is also expected to consider the American Housing Rescue and Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008. This legislation will provide mortgage refinancing assistance, which will help keep families from losing their homes and protect neighboring home values. The plan also expands programs run by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) that will allow borrowers in danger of losing their home to refinance into lower-cost government -insured mortgages they can afford to repay.
“The vacant and abandoned housing crisis in Buffalo has undoubtedly been aggravated by the foreclosure crisis,” said Higgins. “Together, these two bills would help to take control of vacant and abandoned properties and increase homeownership opportunities for working families in Western New York.”
The text of Congressman Higgins’ Floor Speech is below:
Madam Chairman, I rise today in strong support of H.R. 5818, the Neighborhood Stabilization Act. I want to thank Chairman Frank, Chairwoman Waters, the staff of the Committee, including Buffalo native Jonathan Harwitz, for their significant efforts to address how foreclosures contribute to the vacant and abandoned housing problem in cities like Buffalo and so many others around the country.
The communities that I represent in Western New York are facing a vacant and abandoned housing crisis. Vacant housing and the problems associated with it are the number one issue that leaders in the City of Buffalo and Cheektowaga in my district hear about every day. These problems have gotten worse because of the foreclosure crisis and the turbulent economic times as working families continue to struggle to make ends meet.
The relief that this bill would provide could not come soon enough. Last fall, I introduced legislation, the Neighborhood Reclamation and Revitalization Act, to address the vacant and abandoned housing crisis in economically vulnerable areas like Buffalo. The loans and grants made available under this bill echo the calls made in my legislation, by empowering local leaders around the country to take control of vacant and abandoned properties and increase homeownership opportunities for working families.
Under this bill, local leaders could use loan funds to purchase and rehabilitate vacant homes for sale to working families. If homes are beyond repair and sit within neighborhoods prone to abandonment, local leaders could use grant funds to demolish them. Both the loan and grant initiatives will provide an immediate injection of resources into these neighborhoods that have been hard hit by foreclosures, so that they will have a better chance to get back on their feet.
Vacant and abandoned homes wreak havoc on the neighborhoods in which they sit. These homes serve as havens for crime, endangering children and making entire neighborhoods less safe for families to live. They also serve as a drain on local governments, which must deal with decaying homes long after owners and lenders have abandoned them. Perhaps most distressing, abandoned homes add to the continued decline of once-thriving neighborhoods.
I congratulate the Financial Services Committee for paying serious attention to this issue, and I would urge my colleagues to support this good bill.