Tackling Vacancy: St. Louis Land Bank Assessment

Study Offers Recommendations for Implementation

February 23, 2017 | 3 min reading time

This article is 7 years old. It was published on February 23, 2017.

ST. LOUIS -- With the oldest land bank in America, the City of St. Louis has been exploring new ways to reduce the inventory in its land bank, which is operated by the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA). Properties come into LRA ownership as a matter of last resort after private owners abandon them and fail to pay taxes for five years. What's left behind is often in shambles, leaving blight for neighbors and the City to deal with.

Through its status as a Strong Cities, Strong Communities (SC2) awardee, the City -- having identified vacancy and abandonment as a priority -- was able to tap into technical assistance from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which funded an assessment of LRA's land bank.

"More than 100 other land banks have been established based on the very first one created here in the City of St. Louis," Mayor Francis Slay said. "We are certain that we can learn new insights and tools from the more current iterations across the country to enhance the way LRA operates and to make the City more sustainable."

The St. Louis Land Bank Assessment, performed by Asakura Robinson, sought to identify opportunities for the LRA to improve existing processes and adopt new policies and programs to address vacancy and abandonment in St. Louis. The Assessment lists six key categories of recommendations, focused on defining a forward-looking LRA mission and vision;formalizing policies and procedures; managing vacant properties from the time they become vacant until they are sold to a new owner by the LRA; fostering clear communication and transparency to build trust in the community;growing the LRA's staffing and financial resources; and building and solidifying partnerships with other public agencies.

The report also includes an Action Plan to help show how the recommendations should move forward and be prioritized over the next five years.

"We offer up actionable recommendations within each of the categories to help LRA move these ideas off paper and into practice," said Alexandra Miller, Principal, Asakura Robinson. "They include steps like building a new LRA website that includes an interactive property map, developing a maintenance plan that documents current resources and defines long-term targets that could be reached with new resources, and creating seminars that can help community groups, realtors, and others participate in transforming vacant properties."

"Having these tools is a tangible result of our work in partnership with SC2," said Patrick Brown, Chief Resilience Officer. "Tackling vacancy and abandonment by putting these properties back to productive reuse, which in turn, saves taxpayers money, will enhance the resilience of our neighborhoods. I look forward to continuing this work through our 100 Resilient Cities initiative."

"The EPA is proud to assist the LRA and City of St. Louis in its efforts to find sustainable reuses for vacant and abandoned land," said David Doyle, Sustainable Communities Coordinator at the EPA. "Reusing vacant land in an urban environment like St. Louis provides opportunities to build new homes and businesses on land that might otherwise be developed in greenfield sites outside of the City, thus reducing the use of automobiles and their emissions that contribute to local air quality issues and climate change. Rebuilding where there is existing infrastructure also is much more efficient than building in greenfield sites, which lack such infrastructure. Land reutilization, quite simply, is a win for the environment."

The Land Bank Assessment is a piece of Mayor Slay's concentrated effort to tackle vacancy and abandonment, which also include the following:

  • Selection into the Community Progress Leadership Institute has provided technical assistance to the City.
  • Mow to Own allows City residents to take immediate ownership of LRA-owned parcels adjacent to their property if the resident agrees to continually maintain them.
  • The City brought in Fresh Coast Capital to plant tree farms on 42 vacant LRA-owned lots. Mow to Own and the tree farms also fit into Mayor Slay's Sustainability Action Agenda on Urban Character, Vitality &Ecology in making LRA land available at no cost for productive reuse of the land.
  • The City is partnering with MSD to demolish more than 1,000 of the worst abandoned buildings over the next five years.
  • Two AmeriCorps teams joined in with Mayor Slay's Vacancy &Blight Taskforce, a public-private partnership made up of City employees, non-profits, residents and developers, to begin creating a comprehensive database of vacant/abandoned lots and buildings.
  • The City also has trained residents to use an app to help keep vacant land data current. Volunteers document the conditions and take photographs of vacant/abandoned buildings and lots to maintain the newly-established database.

Residents also are encouraged to report vacancy conditions, especially if a building needs to be securely boarded, to the Citizens' Service Bureau by calling (314) 622-4800 or tweeting @stlcsb.

About LRA:

The City of St. Louis has the oldest land bank in the United States. The Land Reutilization Authority was established in 1971 to take ownership of private abandoned properties. When a property owner fails to pay taxes for five years, the City's Collector of Revenue may sue and foreclose. There are at least five public tax foreclosure sales per year. Any properties not sold at the foreclosure sale are transferred into the LRA inventory to be maintained, marketed and sold. The sale dates and list of parcels for sale are listed online (http://dynamic.stlouis-mo.gov/collector/sale-suit-schedule.cfm).

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