Modified: September 15, 2022 1:40pm

September 12, 2022

Erie County Clerk Michael P. Kearns along with members of the Clerk’s Zombies Initiative Taskforce toured 12 vacant homes throughout the City of Buffalo as part of the newly unveiled Good Neighbor Project with out-of-town servicer Ocwen Finainacial Corp. of New Jersey. Pictured left to right: Tamara Gifford, Director of Community and External Relations for Ocwen Financial Group, Jean Blizzard, Paralegal and Community Engagement Specialist, Erie County Clerk Mickey Kearns, Kate Lockhart, Vacant and Abandoned Property Program Director, WNY Law Center, and LaQuashia Thomas, Volunteer, WNY Law Center.

Project gives out-of-town servicers a sense of community by holding them to the same upkeep standards as the homeowners who reside in the neighborhood are held

BUFFALO, NY-Erie County Clerk Michael P. Kearns announced this afternoon Ocwen Financial Corp. of New Jersey has become the first member of the Clerk’s Zombie Initiative’s “Good Neighbor Project” that is designed to hold servicers of vacant and abandoned zombie properties to a higher standard.

The “Good Neighbor Project” is a collaboration between the Erie County Clerk’s Zombie Initiative, the Western New York Law Center and its out-of-town partners to ensure vacant and abandoned properties throughout the county that are maintained, serviced or owned by out-of-town banks, servicers, or investors, are held to the same standards of neighbors who maintain their properties on the street.

The announcement was made in front of a vacant and abandoned property in Buffalo that is serviced by Ocwen Financial Corp., one of the leading non-bank servicing companies in America.  The principal speakers were Erie County Clerk Michael P. Kearns, Kate Lockhart, Vacant and Abandoned Property Program Director at WNY Law Center, and Tamara E. Gifford, Director of Community and External Relations for Ocwen Financial Group.

Ocwen has been an active member of the Erie County Clerk’s Zombie Task Force for four years and because of that relationship, it was asked to be the first participant in this “Good Neighbor Project.” In the future, the Zombie Initiative expects other out-of-town servicers and local servicers to participate at the level.

"Ocwen is pleased to become the first member of the Good Neighbor project,” said Ms. Gifford. “We are committed to helping homeowners remain in their homes whenever possible while also acting as good neighbors.”

“We are making servicers neighbors by holding them to the same standards as the neighbors who live on the street are held,” Lockhart said.  “This makes our out-of-town servicers local and while they may not actually be local, we now expect them to be a good neighbor for each of the properties they are servicing.”

The Clerk’s Zombie Initiative currently works in the following way: The WNY Law Center will receive a community complaint about a vacant and abandoned property in a municipality within Erie County. The Law Center will research the property history and contacts the servicer or mortgage provider and tries to obtain compliance.

Lockhart said the difference now is Ocwen has proactively contacted the Law Center about the properties it is currently servicing in the county to ensure they are compliant with New York State law.

“Ocwen has truly stepped up to the plate and wants to be a leader on our Zombie Task Force,” stated County Clerk Kearns.  “This national servicer, it is not from this area, and here they are flying an executive to Buffalo to inspect their properties.”

Ocwen has provided the Law Center with more than a dozen properties which were inspected by Clerk’s Zombie Initiative Task Force and Ms. Gifford after the press conference.

“We are being extremely proactive with these properties because of the assistance we are receiving from Ocwen," Lockhart added.  "Three years ago, we collaborated with them on the demolition of one of their properties on Euclid Ave. in Kenmore where they reimbursed the village for that expense.”

“This ‘Good Neighbor Project’ seeks to be proactive in its approach to ensure out-of-town does not mean you are a bad neighbor,” Kearns added.