Copyright 2014-2016 St. Louis Association of Community Organizations. All rights reserved.

St. Louis Association of Community Organizations

Reprinted with permission from

Mr. Deandre Brown, Sr. and Ms. Tina Ryan
Miss Devon Ryan, student

3000 block of California
20th Ward
Gravois Park

Alderwoman Cara Spencer

A Message on Vacancy from SLACO President Sundy Whiteside


Vacancy is definitely a problem that has plagued the City of St. Louis for decades. Generation to generation to generation of families have endured this devastation.  It has been debilitating to the quality of life of our community and its residents. As a result of a depleting tax base, and spending for upkeep and securing of the vacant properties, it is estimated that the total cost of vacancy is more than $14.8 million per year.  As the city faces a depleting tax base, residents are faced with a lack of available public services.  For residents living directly near vacant properties, these dilapidated eyesores bring down their property values, and these dangerous structures are a breeding ground for unsafe, and sometimes criminal activities that have been known to lead to traumatic narratives of suffering and even death.

What is also harmful is the psychological handicap that impregnates into residents’ minds - the questions, “Don’t we deserve better? Is our community not worth more?”  These thoughts then give birth to destructive behaviors, a loss sense of pride and complete hopelessness.  If you do not live directly near vacant properties, please understand that vacancy affects us all.  For every city resident, vacancy consumes tax dollars that could be put to better use. And, for every resident of our region, the city’s vacancy challenge is a hindrance on our ability to compete with other regions.

As a resident of the Walnut Park East Neighborhood, which has approximately 750 vacant properties, I was delighted to get the call that the St. Louis Association of Community Organizations, known as SLACO, had identified vacancy as a priority focus for advocacy and policy work.  SLACO has been addressing a broad range of issues related to strengthening St. Louis neighborhoods for the past 40 years, and in January of 2016 held the first SLACO Vacancy Committee meeting.  Understanding that the problem requires a collaborative approach, this was a convening of a diverse group of stakeholders ranging from neighborhood residents, neighborhood associations, academia, community leaders and various community organizations gathering with great enthusiasm to come together, work together, and move forward together to create tools and resources to address the problem of vacancy in St. Louis.

We continue to work together and we will provide updates on our work as we progress in this endeavor to rid the City of St. Louis of vacant properties. Thank you.


Letters from Students Discussing Vacancy

SLACO Board President

Sundy Whiteside

May 18, 2016

SLACO asks St Louis Ways and Means Committee for additional funding in City's 2017 budget for demolition.

I like to write. I write with a passion. I write seriously. My teacher gives me topics and I just write essays. A recent essay that I wrote was about vacant buildings in the 63118 zip code. Like that one right there, and that one down there, and all the vacant buildings. 

Sometimes they can be a bad thing for our neighborhood because even that one across the street with the pretty boards on it still messes up our area. Crack addicts and dope dealers can be inside vacant buildings and there are children around. I make sure when my little sisters and nieces are outside that they don’t go anywhere dangerous. I make sure they don’t go past this side of the sidewalk. 

In my essay, I wrote about how it’s become a problem in St. Louis. How something needs to be done about it. How city workers can at least fix them and make them a beautiful site to stare at. You see how they have the beautiful boards on some? They could add more. 

And another thing about vacancies is that they’re so old that they can cause problems. There was a lighting strike that hit a vacant building from a storm. And another just collapsed down the street. What if we lived next door to one of those houses? They’re tearing our neighborhood apart, piece by piece. 

If I could dream big, it’d be somethin’ else. I used to tell my mommy and daddy, “We should do a lemonade stand and donate money for the properties in St. Louis that are being destroyed.” 

I used to dream so big. It never worked. Maybe the lemonade was watered down or it was too sweet. I don’t know.


Media Results:

January 21, 2019

St. Louis Has a Plan for Vacancy
Guest Column by Sundy Whiteside and Patrick Brown

As detailed in the Post-Dispatch’s “Tipping Point” series, St. Louis has a serious vacant property challenge that cries out for serious action.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch


April 18, 2018
St. Louis, nonprofits partner to address city's abandoned buildings

Community development organizations, nonprofits and city planners in St. Louis have formed a partnership to address the city's vacancy issues, which include 7,100 abandoned buildings.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch 

Vacancy Approaches Seen as Critical to the Success of Neighborhoods

As part of SLACO's new strategic plan developed in 2014, the SLACO Board decided to select an advocacy issue that impacted neighborhoods citywide. The growing problem of vacant property was selected and a Vacancy Committee was formed.

The committee brought together a diverse group of about 30 individuals from throughout the city, including neighborhood residents with first-hand experience with vacant properties, representatives from non-profits and subject-matter experts.

The committee first met in January 2016 and subcommittees were formed to tackle various aspects of the issue:

Best Practices - Identifies promising practices and tested approaches in other communities in St. Louis and across the country
Education/Outreach – Disseminates information and resources developed by the other subcommittees
LRA - Educates neighborhoods about how they can obtain LRA property and advocates for changes and improvements to the process

Legal Tools - Studies city ordinances and state statutes to determine how they can be used to address nuisance properties and prevent vacancies.

The ad hoc Short-Term Budget subcommittee secured an additional $188,000 in the city budget for vacant building maintenance in the 2017 budget.

The committee plans to host a Vacancy Conference on February 24, 2017 to bring together stakeholders to develop a detailed action plan for moving forward.

In addition, the Vacancy Committee has been working with city leaders to see where collaboration might occur because the best way to tackle the vacancy issue is to work to ensure that all stakeholders are brought together.

The scourge of vacancy in St. Louis developed over many years for many reasons and needs a variety of approaches and time to address it.

Vacant properties pose many problems, including:

  • Attracting crime causing an increase in the number of  police and fire calls
  • Decreasing property values and reducing the city’s tax base
  • Increasing insurance costs
  • Loss of population
  • Taking a human toll 

Vacancy by the Numbers


What are Vacant Properties?

Vacant properties are residential, commercial, or industrial abandoned buildings and unused lots. Fundamentally, vacant properties are costly and wasteful. These properties strain both local government resources and neighborhoods. The harm extends beyond St. Louis boundaries.

Vacant Properties in St. Louis

Because St. Louis is a shrinking city, it has struggled for decades with vacant properties. The Shrinking Cities International Research Network (SIRN) defines a shrinking city as a densely populated urban area with population losses for more than two years. Since hitting its peak in the 1950s, St. Louis has had a steady population decline.

How Do Vacant Properties Impact St. Louis Neighborhoods?

Vacant properties pose a threat to neighborhood stability and public services. The most obvious victims of vacant properties are neighboring owners. Suffering from deferred maintenance, these properties bring down surrounding property values. Maintaining vacant property is costly to an already unstable city tax base – placing a financial burden on all taxpayers. Vacant lots and buildings must be maintained to correct issues posing a threat – all at a substantial public cost.

Unless St. Louis can do something to change the current population trend, vacant properties will continue to be a problem that continues to grow.

Public Policy and Legal Systems

Properly addressing the scale of vacant properties in St. Louis requires a closer look at governing and legal systems as well as knowing how to maneuver through the process. The city of St. Louis controls about 11,000 vacant properties; The Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) receives title to all tax-delinquent properties not sold at the Sheriff’s sale. It also receives title to properties through donations. The real estate department maintains, markets, and sells these properties and performs land assemblage for future development.

What is SLACO Doing?

The SLACO Vacancy Committee is convening a diverse group of stakeholders and playing a strategic and intentional role in reshaping methods for dealing with vacant properties in residential neighborhoods in a holistic way.

Want to bring your skills and voice to the Vacancy Committee? Contact SLACO Vacancy Committee Co-Chairs George Jones and Eltoreon Hawkins at or 314-361-9406.