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Federal funding and a new law to address St. Louis’ vacant properties

A photo of a vacant home in St. Louis
Chad Davis
/
St. Louis Public Radio
A new law and funding are aimed at addressing the roughly 25,000 vacant and abandoned properties in St. Louis.

St. Louis will soon have new resources to address 25,000 vacant and abandoned buildings.

Those include a new law that deals with privately owned buildings and millions in federal funding to go toward removing ones owned by the city.

Around 10,000 of the 25,000 properties that are vacant are privately owned, giving the city more hurdles on how to handle them.

State Rep. Donna Baringer, D-St. Louis, a former member of the Board of Aldermen, says the problem led to an effort from the St. Louis Vacancy Collaborative to draft a law aimed at reducing the number of those properties.

“They all came to the table and they said, what do we need to do to change the law? How do we change it so that we can effectively move this process along for the City of St. Louis and make it easier to get a clean title?” Baringer said.

The resulting law makes multiple technical changes to streamline the process of redeveloping those properties.

Some of those changes include speeding up the process for a lawsuit and increasing the number of notices issued over a vacant property, said Charlie Hinderliter, director of government affairs for St. Louis Realtors.

“It's really technical changes that help improve due process, protecting private property rights for existing owners. And then if those owners that haven't paid their back taxes are walking away from this, how do we get it faster back into the hands of somebody that can actually use it,” Hinderliter said.

Torrey Park, director of the St. Louis Vacancy Collaborative, says the process of drafting and passing this law took around four years.

She said the law will also help with the insurability of these properties because a title company will not insure if it doesn't have all the needed information. That can lead to buildings not selling.

The law could also lead to stronger neighborhoods, Hinderliter said.

“In St. Louis, we have homes that could be rehabbed, that could be part of neighborhoods that we can bring vibrancy back to homes that could be that starter home that are affordable, but we need to get them into new hands that are going to actually do something with them,” Hinderliter said.

Baringer said the reduction of vacant properties will also help from a safety perspective.

The number of vacant properties gained greater attention earlier in the year, when a St. Louis firefighter died after an abandoned building collapsed with him in it.

“Nobody wants to put an emergency worker’s life needlessly in danger. And having someone go into a building that you don't know, may just completely collapse on you, is dangerous. And we couldn't continue it,” Baringer said.

The legislature allocated $15 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act to go toward the removal of condemned, vacant, city-owned properties.

“Of course, while some of that is going to demolition, we are also looking at other ways to see if buildings have an opportunity to be stabilized and reused,” Park said.

Though the money has been allocated to the state’s Department of Economic Development, the department said specific details regarding the funding, including when it will be available, is not yet determined.

Follow Sarah Kellogg on Twitter: @sarahkkellogg

Sarah Kellogg is the Missouri Statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio

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