WALNUT PARK EAST – New efforts are being made by city officials and local community groups to tackle the increasing numbers of abandoned buildings and condemned properties on the north side.
Those efforts got a big boost by a court ruling last month allowing the city to enact Proposition NS. Approved by voters last year, the proposition allows for a property tax increase to generate funds to demolish and stabilize abandoned buildings.
According to a city report titled “A Plan to Reduce Vacant Lots and Buildings,” there are 25,000 abandoned or vacant properties in St. Louis, comprising 19 percent of all property in the city. About 53 percent of the vacant property is privately owned and 47 percent, or about 11,500 properties, are owned by the city’s land bank, the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA).
Many residents complain about the crime, drug use, prostitution and fire hazards that can occur in and near abandoned properties. Studies show vacant properties are also costly due to loss of tax revenue and decreased property home value. The city report states that it spent $66 million in 2017 in maintenance and public safety costs related to abandoned buildings and it is estimated the city loses close to $8 million a year in property tax revenue.
The increase in abandoned properties has especially affected north side neighborhoods like Greater Ville, JeffVanderLou and Hamilton Heights. Out of the city’s 79 neighborhoods, 10 make up for more than half of all abandoned buildings and all 10 of those neighborhoods are north of Delmar Blvd.
Since being elected mayor, Lyda Krewson has publicly pledged efforts to coordinate with local nonprofits, and community development organizations to address the city’s blight problem. This effort included the recent demolition of 164 buildings
Better Family Life, a north side nonprofit, established the Clean Sweep neighborhood clean-up initiative last year. The organization said that about 1,000 residents and volunteers worked to remove more than five tons of debris from the Wells Goodfellow, Hamilton Heights, JeffVanderlou, Walnut Park, University City & Jennings
According to Alderwoman Pam Boyd, the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District (MSD) earmarks as much as $300,000 a year per neighborhood to demolish houses in north St. Louis. The Walnut Park East community, which is within Boyd’s district, was able to use MSD funds to demolish many vacant homes in the neighborhood.
Boyd said the program arrose from a lawsuit about rainwater runoff against MSD. “It was originally a project to improve water quality and to alleviate the many wastewater concerns in St. Louis,” said Boyd.
Boyd estimated that around 100 demolitions have been completed so far in Walnut Park East.
The demolitions are expected to be followed by a rainscaping phase.
“We will be moving into the rainscaping program,” said Boyd. “We’re hoping we can finish it before the end of the year.”
There are also some concerns about misuse of the demolished properties.
“We’re trying to help make sure nobody is dumping on those lots so people can feel proud of where they live,” Boyd said.