The Return of Dollar Houses

By on September 21, 2018

From NextSTL:  On September 7, the Board of Aldermen passed a Dollar House Bill that directs the St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC) to again establish a homesteading program allowing individuals to purchase for $1 vacant buildings owned by the city landbank, the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA). The measure passed by a voice vote, and is a resolution rather than an ordinance, reflecting the fact that the LRA and SLDC are public corporations outside of civil government. The Board of Aldermen lacks authority to directly compel these agencies (although the Board president appoints one of the three commissioners that oversees LRA and votes on acceptance of sales offers.)

Alderman John Collins-Muhammad (D-21st) first introduced the resolution before summer recess. Aldermanic President Lewis Reed was the resolution’s only co-sponsor. The bill would establish a lease program in which interested rehabbers could obtain an 18-month lease on the property, and undertake a rehabilitation that would need to be completed in that time frame. The rehabber would have to repair the building to a condition of “stabilization” within 120 days, and complete all work within 18 months. If the rehabber obtained an occupancy permit for dwelling within 18 months, and signed an agreement to occupy the building as a primary residence for at least five years, that person would pay only $1 to purchase the house.

This is not the first time that city government has attempted to sell off LRA houses for $1 or other token amounts, but it does come at a time when the LRA inventory has soared to a historic high of over 11,000 properties (at least half of which have vacant buildings on them, although the exact count is unknown).

The LRA itself is the product of targeted political organizing by rehabbers in the city’s Lafayette Square, Soulard, LaSalle Park and Hyde Park neighborhoods, who found it impossible to get clear title to vacant tax-delinquent properties. Before the City of St. Louis chartered LRA in 1972, rehabbers either had to locate owners or attempt to initiate a judicial foreclosure on property, which required potential high legal costs and the chance that deadbeat owners could seek continuance after continuance to wear them down. LRA and the state land reutilization law created clear procedures for both foreclosure and ownership – any foreclosed property not redeemed by its owner or sold at a required auction would become the LRA’s property. LRA could then sell these properties to buyers with cleared titles.

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