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Editorial: Vacant-building stabilization effort offers hope for some St. Louis neighborhoods

Editorial: Vacant-building stabilization effort offers hope for some St. Louis neighborhoods

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St. Louis LRA begins stablizing homes after years-long saga

A crewman with Nelux Development removes bags of demolition debris on Friday at a city-owned property in the 4700 block of Newberry Place. Nelux has about 10 workers working to stabilize the two-story, two-family home.

Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

Some long-neglected St. Louis neighborhoods are starting to see slow but positive change as the city begins the stabilization process needed to keep vacant buildings from deteriorating into unsalvageable eyesores. Voters in 2017 approved Prop NS, which imposes a property tax of $11 per $100,000 in assessed value to fund the stabilization of abandoned buildings. The investment, as we wrote at the time, was well worth the expense because St. Louisans can no longer afford to stand idly by as their city’s houses and buildings steadily decay.

The main goal of the stabilization program is to stop newly acquired, vacant buildings in the land-bank inventory of the Land Reutilization Authority from the relentless degradation, invasion, pilfering and battering by the elements that typically lead to demolition. When buildings in the land bank are left untended, neighbors have no choice but to watch them slowly crumble away — along with their own property values.

This cycle has repeated itself so many times across the city, too many St. Louis neighborhoods have acquired the appearance of a disaster zone. Prop NS never was offered as a solution to that bigger blight problem but only as a way to stabilize newer entries to the city’s inventory so they don’t suffer the same fate and further drag the city down.

How bad is the problem? According to the STL Vacancy Collaborative, there are 7,663 vacant buildings in the city and 12,524 vacant lots. Maintenance costs for the past five years have cost taxpayers more than $17 million. The reutilization authority owns 3,213 vacant buildings and nearly 9,000 vacant lots. The collaborative’s website, stlvacancy.com, provides two shocking maps depicting exactly where the degradation and abandonment are occurring. One map, showing all publicly funded demolitions completed or awarded since 2017, demonstrates why it’s so important to catch buildings and stabilize them before they become unsalvageable.

It’s taken four years for Prop NS to finally start bearing fruit, the Post-Dispatch’s Jacob Barker reports. The funds prioritize the fundamentals: Putting new roofs on abandoned structures prevents destructive rain seepage. Doorways and windows are boarded over to prevent invasion. Tuck pointing and cutting away overgrown vegetation keeps brick walls from crumbling and wood from rotting. If enough can be done to keep the building a step ahead of eyesore-quality, investors tend to be more interested in buying it and starting a full rehab.

But here’s the catch: So far, only three stabilized buildings are under contract and another five are posted for sale — out of roughly 1,800 eligible city-owned buildings. Clearly, the effort needs to step up considerably.

The vacancy and blight problem is one that St. Louis voters didn’t get to hear much about during the mayoral campaign, but it’s one that Mayor Tishaura Jones can no longer avoid. She didn’t create the problem, but it’s now hers to fix.

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