MIDTOWN – The old saying is “home is where you make it,” and for some St. Louis residents, that home can be had for only $1 — well, $403 actually.
The Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) partnered with 21st Ward Alderman John Collins-Muhammad last week to roll out a new initiative that is aimed at driving families back into the area by promising the deed to vacant homes for only $1. Additional fees associated with obtaining a home through the program are required though. Fees for things such as title insurance, application fees, recording fees bring the total to purchase the home to around $403.
A steady increase of vacant houses from residents opting to move from the area have expanded the LRA’s inventory list, meaning the agency is experiencing rising maintenance costs. Collins-Muhammad said he worked to find a way to get these houses back in the hands of families for a low cost, in an effort to encourage families to return to the neighborhood.
Collins-Muhammad, LRA’s Laura Costello, and Steve Conway, the chief of staff for Mayor Lyda Krewson took to the stage last Tuesday night at Harris-Stowe University to address a lively crowd with more than 1000 attendees. The three explained the process and answered the multitude of questions that residents had.
On the surface, the program appears to be simple and easy and area residents were excited by what they heard Tuesday night.
“I think it’s going to bring a lot of life back into our urban community,” said Dre Nisha Westbrook from the 21st Ward who said she attended high school with Collins-Muhammad. Westbrook continued, “We all grew up in poverty and the same neighborhood, so I don’t think it’s a game, we are actually going to put the footwork in it and do it”
Kelvin Fowler of north city said he was excited about the possibility of pumping life back into his neighborhood. “It gives people who don’t have opportunity to do something positive for the neighborhood,” he said.
Chris Wells, a St. Louis City architect shared, “We have to look at what other cities are doing, there are a lot of cities that have great blueprints with how they are dealing with homelessness and LRA problems.”
This is not the first time the LRA has introduced a creative, low-cost way to improve St. Louis neighborhoods. The “Mow to Own” program allows property owners to take ownership of an adjacent vacant lot for a small fee and continual upkeep of their new property.
How to Get Started
Finding an eligible house is pretty straightforward. The LRA provides a list of qualifying homes on the City of St. Louis’ website. Paper copies of the list are also available at the LRA’s office, located at 1520 Market St., Suite 2000. Only a certain number of homes owned by the Land Reutilization Authority make this list, which contains about 551 houses currently available under this program.
All prospective buyers must obtain keys to their desired home for a walk-through inspection to ensure they are fully prepared for the type of project that awaits them. A $20 cash deposit is required to access any properties, some of which are currently boarded up and require assistance to view.
Buyers must make an appointment and then submit an offer and application to purchase their desired property.
A $25 non-refundable deposit is required for all applications. Staff members will review the applicants and submit recommendations to the LRA Board of Commissioners who will then make a decision. The program is not run on a first come, first serve basis – the staff will make recommendations based on potential budgets, income, or equity.
If Approved by Board of Commissioners:
For those residents who are approved, they must obtain title insurance prior to closing. The LRA office has the ability to do so for $250 for those interested. Title insurance protects the buyer and helps ensure there are no liens or judgments against the property.
A mandatory homeowners counseling course is required of all approved buyers and is offered through e-Home America. The course cost is $70, and a discount will be made available for users of the Dollar Home Program.
A plan and budget must be submitted and approved by the LRA staff. Details of what needs to be included in the plan are still under development, but during Tuesday’s meeting Laura Costello mentioned that buyer plans might include their source of income and how they plan to access money for their project, be it a loan, savings, or seed money.
The final closing step is signing a Quit Claim Deed with the LRA, which will be held until the buyer obtains an occupancy permit and the mandatory 3 year occupancy period of the home. A $58.00 recording fee is due at that time.
Once the Home is Yours
As soon the Quit Claim deed is signed, the buyer has 18 months to renovate the property to meet city code and must obtain an occupancy permit. Organizers of the program have said the timeline is not entirely strict and may offer extensions based on circumstances, but there is no mention of that at the current moment. Buyers are also asked to stabilize the structure of the home and fix any exterior sections of the structure to meet code compliance within 120 days of closing on the property.
If the home requires work on HVAC, plumbing, or electrical, the LRA requires the use of a licensed professional to do the work. These are the only areas that absolutely require you to use a licensed company.
Lastly, buyers must use this home as your main residence for three years. This rule keeps house flippers away and encourages much needed long-term residency in these neighborhoods.
If the buyer does not adhere to the request of meeting code compliance and obtaining an occupancy permit, the house reverts back to the possession of the LRA.
All buyers must stabilize the structure of the home and bring the exterior of the structure to code compliance within 120 days of closing on the property.
Buyers will have up to 18 months to renovate the property to adhere to city codes and obtain an occupancy permit.
Buyers will be required to own and occupy the property for at least three years after obtaining the occupancy permit.