Vacant Properties | St. Louis Public Radio

Vacant Properties

A vacant lot on Finney Avenue photographed on October 8, 2019. The Neighborhood Lot Maintenance pilot program aims to chip away at the issue of overgrown city-owned vacant land by hiring private contractors to maintain the land.
Shahla Farzan | St. Louis Public Radio

Thaddeus Gerdine maintains more than 60 vacant lots in the city of St. Louis. 

“They just seemed like no one was taking care of them,” said Gerdine, who keeps the grass trimmed and picks up trash.

His construction company, Triple T, is one of five small businesses participating in a city-run pilot program that pays private crews to maintain vacant lots. The program, which is wrapping up its first season, focuses on neighborhoods with the highest concentrations of vacant land. 

Damika Moore, 15, waters a garden in the Vandeventer neighborhood as part of the LOVEtheLOU program.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Among St. Louis' thousands of vacant lots, three on the city's north side are having a positive impact. The three community gardens along Enright Avenue in the Vandeventer neighborhood are a part of LOVEtheLOU's vision of creating a stronger community.

The Grandel is a former church in Grand Center that now houses the Dark Room, a jazz club. The building was also home to the Black Rep theater for 20 years. April 19, 2019.
Brian Heffernan | St. Louis Public Radio

Declining church attendance is forcing some religious leaders to make difficult decisions — namely, what to do with outsized or vacant places of worship.

Many U.S. churches were built decades ago during times of religious growth. In some communities, however, shrinking congregations no longer have the financial resources to maintain these large church properties. Eden Theological Seminary will host a two-day symposium this week focused on ways religious and community leaders can repurpose these buildings.

Eltoreon Hawkins works on a house in the Walnut Park West neighborhood of St. Louis.
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Eltoreon Hawkins has made it his mission to help St. Louisans buy vacant, city-owned houses.

The 25-year-old contractor bought his first home from the city’s Land Reutilization Authority when he was a student at Harris-Stowe State University.

This north St. Louis house has been owned by the Land Reutilization Authority for more than five years, and can be purchased for $1. Feb. 6, 2019.
Kae Petrin | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis has launched a pilot program to sell some 500 city-owned homes for just $1 a pop.

But that low cost comes with strings attached. Purchasers will have to invest in extensive renovations before they can move in to the homes, which have sat vacant for at least five years.

Here’s what you need to know about how to buy those homes, where they are located and what it takes to rehabilitate a property that has spent years deteriorating.

Vacant buildings owned by the Land Reutilization Authority in the 4000 block of Evans Avenue.
File Photo | Marie Schwarz | St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis homebuyers will soon be able to purchase some city-owned properties at a deep discount.

The going rate? One dollar.

Beginning this month, the Land Reutilization Authority will sell certain residential properties in the city’s land bank through the “Dollar House” pilot program. It’s part of an effort to reduce the number of vacant, city-owned properties and revitalize fading neighborhoods.

File Photo | Parth Shah | St. Louis Public Radio

The City of St. Louis plans to knock down nearly three times as many vacant buildings this fiscal year than it did the year before.

It's part of an effort pushed by Mayor Lyda Krewson to lower the number of vacant properties by dedicating more money to demolitions and using data to identify properties that most urgently need to come down.

The St. Louis Development Corporation has awarded a contract to Refab to deconstruct an 1884 warehouse on Martin Luther King Junior Drive in St. Louis.
Laura Ginn | SLDC

For Eric Schwarz, a vacant building is more than a culmination of neglect and decay; it’s a treasure trove.

“Some of these materials will never be produced again,” said Schwarz, executive director of the St. Louis salvage nonprofit Refab. “Those handmade bricks, we’re not going to see those anymore.”

Refab has “deconstructed” more than 100 buildings in St. Louis, a process that involves carefully dismantling a property and reselling the materials for new projects. The nonprofit recently received a first-of-its-kind contract from the St. Louis Development Corporation as part of a new push to deconstruct more buildings slated for demolition.

Refab, a salvage yard in south St. Louis
Eli Chen | St. Louis Public Radio

As more vacant buildings come down in north St. Louis next year, workers will be taking some of them apart to salvage and resell valuable architectural materials.

The Green City Coalition, a collaboration of government and nonprofit groups that aims to build green spaces in north St. Louis, plans to deconstruct 30 houses owned by the city’s Land Reutilization Authority.

"When we’re developing strategies to tackle vacancy, we need good data as a base to guide those decisions," says Laura Ginn (right), who has helped develop a data-rich website on vacant property in St. Louis.
Melody Walker | St. Louis Public Radio

For the record, St. Louis is home to 20,187 vacant properties. More than half are vacant lots, totaling 1,565 acres. Over the past five years, it has cost the city more than $17 million to maintain the vacant property with services like mowing, removing dumped waste, and boarding up abandoned structures.

The total assessed value of all that property? $79,813,010.

A faded and tattered U.S. flag catches the breeze in the yard of a vacant property in the Gravois Park neighborhood on June 30, 2018.
Brian Heffernan | St. Louis Public Radio

Gravois Park has an unlikely advocate for inclusive development in a 12-year-old girl who wants to see the vacant buildings and lots on her block be transformed into safe, liveable places.

Deyon Ryan’s passion for the issue is partly influenced by her father, DeAndre Brown, who has been vocal on the issue. Deyon wrote about the vacancy problem in school and it caught the attention of local groups.

Mow to Own
Maria Altman | St. Louis Public Radio

The parcel next to Eltorean Hawkins’ home looks like his side yard.

He’s been mowing the grass and cutting the weeds since he bought his house two years ago, even though the land belongs to the city's Land Reutilization Authority.

Now all Hawkins has to do is pay $125 and keep mowing for another two years, and the deed goes to him.

It’s called Mow to Own.

A classroom inside of Eliiot Elementary. The sub-ceiling is down, paint is stripped off the walls, all the copper is out of the building and the alarm system’s been ripped out.
Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio

Virginia Savage can remember being a nervous fourth grader walking into Marshall Elementary for the first time in the Ville neighborhood in north St. Louis.    

“It was a great school to me,” Savage said. “And when it shut down, I was hurt.”

Left vacant for six years, the building now has vines crawling into the broken windows that fill Marshall's once stately facade. Savage lives nearby and sees something much worse than a crumbling building.     

“Drug dealers, drug users, eyesore. That’s what I see,” Savage said.

Tim Lloyd / St. Louis Public Radio

St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley got behind the controls of a backhoe and started chipping away at the bombed-out looking Glasgow Village Shopping Center.

Susan Groves grew up around here and said it’s a little sad to see a part of her childhood torn down.

“But I think this is a good thing, too,” Groves said.  “This is a place for kids to come and tear things up and do things they shouldn’t be doing here.”