Monday, September 12, 2016

A Funding Initiative for Stabilizing Vacant LRA Buildings!

A coalition of neighborhood leaders across the City of St. Louis is proposing new funding to stabilize and secure vacant buildings owned by the City's Land Reutilization Authority (LRA), making them ready for rehabilitation. Neighbors for a Stable St. Louis is currently gathering signatures for a bond issue that would go to St. Louis voters in 2017. If passed, up to 200 vacant buildings would be stabilized and secured each year with up to $30,000 each.

This would huge both in terms of preserving St. Louis' irreplaceable architecture and stabilizing neighborhoods. Currently we lose hundreds of vacant buildings every year because they have deteriorated beyond feasibility of rehabilitation. Each demolition costs the City an average of $12,000 for houses and more for larger buildings. 

This historic Italianate home on West Belle Place could have been stabilized when it was owned by LRA if the proposed stabilization funding had existed two years ago. Instead, LRA did nothing to his house prior to selling it to the current owner who had planned to rehab it. 

While having a National Register nomination prepared, so the rehab could qualify for Historic Tax Credits, the leaking roof collapsed and destroyed much of the homes interior. The home will soon be demolished. 

The proposed new funding would help bridge the gap between building condition and developers budgets, making it more financially feasible for them to rehabilitate more houses. As with the case above, currently if LRA gets a house and the roof is already leaking, the home simply continues to deteriorate. Every year this makes these house more difficult and expensive to rehabilitate to the point where it becomes financially infeasible to rehab or the building starts to collapse and become a public safety hazard. At this point, the City is forced to demolish the house and we end up with yet another vacant unproductive lot.

Many houses are unnecessarily demolished because they are not secured on a regular basis and are seen by some as a hazard. Often when people complain loud enough, the local alderman may be persuaded to put a building on the City's demolition list. LRA's method of securing buildings with plywood and screws (often only on the first floor) is largely ineffective. This house at 5709 Vernon in the West End neighborhood had an intact roof, but the upper windows were left wide open allowing rain to infiltrate on a regular basis.

Unsecured vacant houses often end up burned by arson fires or homeless people trying to keep warm or cook food. The rear of the home at 5709 Vernon was unsecured and in September 2011 it was gutted by fire leaving only the front and side walls standing.

The shell was demolished about a month later. (2 photos above from Geo St. Louis)

The home on the right was partially damaged by the neighboring fire. While damage did not appear significant, apparently it was enough that the owner demolished the house in 2012.

Many homes in the West End neighborhood have been rehabilitated in the last few years and if 5709 Vernon had been stabilized and secured, it likely would have joined the ongoing revival. Instead, we are left with two vacant lots today.

Neighbors for a Stable St. Louis needs additional volunteers to help gather the 11,000 signatures required to put this initiative to a public vote. If you would like to assist with this, please visit their website, where you can sign up to volunteer. One of the initiative organizers will arrange to get petition forms to you and will also arrange to collect completed forms. Signatures must be collected and turned in to the St. Louis Board of Elections by October 10th. All signatures must be City of St. Louis registered voters. Here is a list of talking points, frequently asked questions and basic petition rules to help with your signature gathering.