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Federal dollars to help St. Louis homeowners avoid losing their houses

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Shahla Farzan
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St. Louis Public Radio
Vacant buildings, like this one in the JeffVanderLou neighborhood in 2018, are often the result of families losing their homes because of property tax debt. An infusion of federal COVID relief funds is intended to reduce the number.

A coalition that helps St. Louis homeowners avoid losing their houses because of delinquent property taxes has gotten an infusion of federal funding.

Mayor Tishaura Jones announced Wednesday that she would transfer $500,000 from the city’s American Rescue Plan Act allocation to the Real Estate Tax Assistance Fund. That means the fund has met the initial fundraising goal it set when it launched in November.

“Preventing foreclosures benefits our entire city, and with the American Rescue Plan Act, we’re trying new ways to get St. Louisans the support they need,” Jones said.

Properties where real estate taxes have not been paid for two years or more are put up for sale at tax auctions, even if the owners are living in them at the time. Officials estimate that as many as 75 families a year lose housing this way.

The assistance fund steps in before the auction takes place and helps the homeowner settle the debt, up to $3,500. Park Central Development, a member of the coalition, helps determine which families are eligible — those families also receive legal help if needed and financial education.

Park Central Executive Director Abdul Abdullah said many families, especially those living in large houses that get passed down in the family, may find themselves having to make expensive, unexpected repairs.

“If the dollars are not there to fix the home up, I have a choice: Pay my taxes or stay in my home,” he said.

Follow Rachel on Twitter: @rlippmann 

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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