Much To Do About (Vacant) Lots

By on September 14, 2018

From NextCity:  Cities across the U.S. Midwest and Rust Belt have long prayed for model citizens like St. Louisan Eltoreon Hawkins. Hawkins has drive: “My vision is to start on the block, in the neighborhood where I live,” he says. “I want to stabilize it. I see it as my chance to give back to my immediate community.”

His first step? In 2014, at the age of 21, Hawkins became the first participant in St. Louis’ new Mow to Own program — and only then by happenstance. Hawkins had previously bought a two-story, three-bedroom house on Shulte Avenue in the Walnut Park neighborhood of the city’s Northside in 2012 for just over $1000. Every two weeks he regularly mowed the empty lot next door, which he assumed was part of his property. It wasn’t, as he found out later when he looked up the deed. About the time he discovered the disappointing news, Hawkins met a local alderman who told him that his efforts to maintain the plot would pay off in time. That prediction came true: Hawkins was selected as the first Mow-to-Own participant and had to pay a mere $125 to have the title handed over to him in a public ceremony which the then-mayor of the city attended.

For Hawkins, the manager for a St. Louis meal-delivery nonprofit, his first experience was a springboard for several more vacant-property heroics. Since his first Mow-to-Own purchase, he has bought two additional homes nearby his Schulte house, one for $2,500 and another later $3,500. Hawkins found both in the inventory of the St. Louis Land Rehabilitation Authority (LRA), the city’s land bank. One he has rehabbed and since rented out; the other he gave to his mother as a present. He’s turned to YouTube and the internet for guidance on how to refinish floors, tear down walls and install cabinets. In all, Hawkins says, he has invested $5,000. What’s more, Hawkins has plenty of choices as he keeps working to rebuild his immediate neighborhood — the LRA website currently lists 604 vacant lots for sale in the very same 27th Ward where Hawkins has set down roots — six for $1,000 on Shulte alone.

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About Dede Hance