This weekend, I was interested to read the St. The coverage by the Louis Post-Dispatch of vacant buildings in St. Louis was fascinating to me. Long-time readers may know that I have strong opinions about the topic. I spent much of the past decade documenting abandoned neighborhoods and meeting those who remained. First, it is unacceptable for anyone to live in an abandoned building. I will not advocate the saving of these buildings. However, I would like to talk about how these buildings reach that point of no returns and how we can stop this from happening to our historic city.
My block is home to several abandoned buildings. Fortunately, they are all well-secured and have not been a nuisance. The post-dispatch article and frequent editorial commentary that I have read are concerning. It seems to me that the newspaper views vacancy as a problem, not a symptom of broader illness. I compare abandoned buildings to measles sores. To heal sores, we must inoculate and treat measles.
There are thousands of abandoned buildings around St. Louis due to poverty, lack of investment, and legacy government policies that favor suburbanization. Chesterfield only has a handful of abandoned homes. Why? Chesterfield is financially solvent because of the capital and investment that flow to this suburb. Government policy, which favors home mortgages as well as interstate highways, has also made Chesterfield financially sound. In the coming decades, thousands more abandoned homes will “come on line” in Chesterfield as the North Side’s thousands of African-American Boomer homeowners age out and crime drives young families from these areas. We will continue to see empty homes if we don’t address the causes of abandonment.
The Post article concerned me more than the obvious omission regarding who owns many of St. Louis’ abandoned buildings. The Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) is not the culprit. The LRA is given the responsibility of trying to sell all property that is not wanted. Although many of my friends would argue otherwise, people want to purchase some of these houses. Let’s not make the LRA the victim of vacancy. I am referring to the other owner of all the abandoned buildings that have been left to rot on the North Side, but also in more South Side neighborhoods. These owners are who? Why are they still sitting on abandoned properties on some of the most isolated streets in the city?
Neighborhood leaders will tell you that the greatest threat to a neighborhood’s stability is the speculator. He or she almost always lives far away from the community in which they “invest.” I often discover that the owner is either in St. Louis County or St. Charles County. Or, because of the increasing high real estate prices along the coasts, of California. Someone from Utah owned the Chuck Berry House in Greater Ville. Talking to these investors over the phone, I learned that many of them don’t know what they’re doing and are buying houses blindly. After several years of being confused by the lack of interest from anyone, they cease paying property taxes, and the house is transferred to the LRA. Is this a big loss for the California buyer? Because of the extremely low prices for houses in St. Louis, it’s not. It’s a lot like playing the lottery. You can buy tickets from all over the Midwest and win one ticket to cover the loss and still make a profit.
People, mainly lower-income African Americans, must live next to the people who lose their lottery tickets.
I randomly selected 20 buildings in North St. Louis that were not owned by the LRA. I was able to determine the address of the owner from this random sample. Some smart owners conceal their identity behind an LLC registered at a P.O. box.) Box.) Five owners owned St. Louis County; three each in St. Charles County and one each in the Metro East. Sometimes, the owner of the house was inherited from a relative. We all have to follow the law. I found several housing code violations that are unlikely to be fixed.
I’ll never forget the meeting at Town and Country where a slumlord laughed and said that he didn’t want to live in the building next to him in his neighborhood.
The City owes its residents safety and comfort, even if it means that their homes can be mortgaged.
St. Louis tried to address the issue of private owners not maintaining their buildings in “A plan to reduce vacant lots and buildings,” but penalties are imposed at the end of a building’s life span by placing liens onto the property when it is sold. A slumlord investor who realizes that he can’t sell his abandoned building will often stop paying property taxes and the city will seize the house after three years. The Sheriff will then auction the property with a starting price of the outstanding property tax. The cost to the ex-owner who failed to pay the property taxes? Zero. Consider this: Slumlords still have the option of making a profit by selling their properties in “up-and-coming” areas, even though many of the penalties for violating property code regulations are very low. The city’s fines are a cost for investors who see them as a business expense. This is of no comfort to the long-suffering neighbors, the tax-paying residents of St. Louis.
How can we solve this problem? It’s not easy. Many LRA buildings will be saved by the recent court victory that allowed Proposition NS to pass. California’s Proposition NS will allow slumlords to live in the same conditions as single mothers with two children. Any less would be a crime. Look at Paul McKee’s heinous deeds over the past decade. If we just enforce the laws in place now and make slumlords accountable, we won’t be able to scare away investment. If St. Louis has a reputation for making sure that residents don’t have the option of sleeping in an abandoned building next to their bed, we might even attract investment.