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St. Louis land bank struggles to reduce vacant properties

September 22, 2018

ST. LOUIS (AP) — St. Louis’ land bank is facing pressure from city officials and residents to reduce its inventory of vacant properties as the agency struggles with staffing and limited funding.

The Land Reutilization Authority owns about 12,000 parcels, which is almost half of St. Louis’ 25,000 vacant lots and buildings. The authority sells between 500 and 550 properties a year, but it hasn’t been able to make a significant dent in the amount of land under its control, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported .

The authority’s small staff say they’re open to new ideas to put more properties back on the tax rolls or into the hands of nonprofits that can better maintain them.

LRA is limited in its resources and operates at a near constant deficit. The authority is funded primarily through its own sales and federal pass-through grants. It often writes IOUs to the city’s economic-development arm, the St. Louis Development Corp.

“We don’t make enough money every year to take care of these properties,” said Laura Costello, LRA’s director of real estate. “We could use a lot more help. We could use a lot more demolition money and more maintenance people.”

Mayor Lyda Krewson has made vacancy a top priority and pushed for nearly $3.6 million in the fiscal 2019 budget to tear down some of the city’s most dangerous properties.

Otis Williams, director of the St. Louis Development Corp, said the pace of demolition work will pick up.

“While we may not get there next week, we are coming,” he said.

The authority is also reaching out to residents and neighborhood groups at the tax sales that offer a last chance for individuals to buy a property before it’s under the agency’s control. The LRA is sending representatives to more meetings and educating the public on how to acquire vacant properties.

The push could be paying off, as the authority has only taken in 187 properties this year after three of five annual tax sales. The land bank typically takes in 500-600 unwanted properties every year. This year’s total shows the public is learning they can buy these properties at those sales, Costello said.

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Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, http://www.stltoday.com

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