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Fighting the vacancy problem that plagues St. Louis neighborhoods

"We still have memories of what a neighborhood used to be like and we have a dream of fulfilling that and bringing that back"

ST. LOUIS — Vacant homes and rundown buildings riddle St. Louis neighborhoods.

It's a problem that started in the 1990s and has had a catastrophic impact on communities. It drives up crime and violence and makes any real shot of creating a neighborhood seem impossible.

That's why 5 On Your Side's “A Way Forward” campaign is highlighting the issue. There is big progress being made and you can be a part of it.

Sundy Whiteside grew up in the Walnut Park East Neighborhood.

"It has become a dumping ground and as soon as we do clean it up, it’s back like this in a matter of weeks," Whiteside explained as she pointed at the piles of trash that line Genevieve Avenue.

After college, Whiteside returned to the neighborhood that she no longer recognized.

"It is a night and day difference. Almost like it’s been war-torn," she said.

She now lives in one of the few rehabbed homes with a fire and passion to bring everything around her back to life.

"We still have memories of what a neighborhood used to be like and we have a dream of fulfilling that and bringing that back, revitalizing it," she explained.

Whiteside is co-founder of STL Vacancy Collaborative and is a board member of SLACO, a group of organizations dedicated to restoring St. Louis neighborhoods.

"In this neighborhood we have 750 vacant properties, but that includes vacant structures and lots," she said.

5 On Your Side reached out to Mayor Krewson’s office to get the numbers that paint the picture of the problem. 

Here’s the information they provided:

There are 25,000 vacant buildings and lots and 10,764 of those are owned by the city, or Land Reutilization Authority (LRA). Of those, 8,580 are lots, 2,081 are buildings and 103 are classified as "other."

Here's the bright spot, the city said over the last five years, it’s been able to sell more properties than its acquired, a sign that things are heading in the right direction.

A spokesperson for Mayor Krewson provided us with these numbers:

  • 2017: LRA acquired 323 parcels, sold 565
  • 2018: LRA acquired 330 parcels, sold 513
  • 2019: LRA acquired 272 parcels, sold 552
  • 2020: LRA acquired 67 parcels, sold 390

In a statement to 5 On Your Side, Mayor Krewson said:

"Nothing good ever happens in a vacant building or on a blighted property. So, we feel very encouraged by the tremendous progress we've been able to make in partnership with a lot of different organizations, community groups, and coalitions.”

Whiteside works directly with those groups and organizations that are buying those city owned properties and bringing them back to life.

One of the issues they face is that many of the vacant buildings are privately owned and the owners don’t want to sell. They also don’t want to take care of these properties that have been blighted for years.

That’s where the Neighborhood Vacancy Initiative comes in. Attorney Peter Hoffman is helping on the legal side of things, getting these properties turned over to the city so they can be rehabbed.

It can be overwhelming when you see the number of vacancies throughout St. Louis neighborhoods. But when you meet people like Whiteside, it makes the impossible seem possible.

"Hope really stems from the way it used to be because I can actually see what it used to be, and it brings back good memories of the individual that lived in some of those homes. I see a vision of what it could be," Whiteside envisioned.

There are ways you can help STL Vacancy Collaborative continue its work. Other than donating money, you can join one of their working groups to brainstorm solutions. They are also looking for contractors who can help rehab some of these properties.

Click here to learn more.