No one intends to build a piece of trashy property, just as no one ever plans to get out of shape or let the car fall apart.
It happens organically, over time. One day, you wake up and notice a big mess on your hands.
This sums up the situation with abandoned and decayed property in St. Joseph, where some neighborhoods from a distant Gilded Age have fallen into disrepair. Many abandoned properties stay that way for years, becoming eyesores, fire hazards and magnets for criminal activity.
The problem seems overwhelming, with no quick fix in sight for more than 400 buildings in St. Joseph. City officials and state lawmakers believe a solution was found in the waning moments of the Missouri legislative session, with the passage of a bill that creates a land bank in St. Joseph.
The measure authorizes the creation of a public board to get abandoned property into the hands of responsible owners, who will redevelop these vacant houses.
The land bank concept is seen as an alternative to the current system. Right now, the problem for St. Joseph is that property sold in a delinquent tax sale often sits idle as a paper investment rather than an actual fixer-upper. Sometimes, the city has no idea who owns a property because so many LLCs are involved.
The land bank will acquire vacant properties and face a two-year window to show progress toward selling or putting the property to productive use.
This bill, which only applies to St. Joseph, was viewed as a priority to the city’s leadership. Gov. Mike Parson came to City Hall this week to sign the bill into law, in a ceremony that was described as historic and a cause for celebration.
Our local delegation, led by state Sen. Tony Leutkemeyer and state Rep. Sheila Solon, deserves a victory lap for getting this particular issue to the governor. We would caution, though, that St. Joseph neighborhoods didn’t fall into this condition overnight. A turnaround promises to be painstaking, even with this significant piece of legislation.
Important issues to sort out include the amount of city funding to get this initiative launched, membership of the land bank board and the determination of which neighborhood and properties are priorities. You can’t fix everything.
An interesting question for us is this: Who are these responsible buyers? Presumably, there was nothing to stop them from purchasing these kinds of properties on the courthouse steps in a delinquent tax sale. Will some sort of incentive be necessary for what could be a costly rehabilitation project?
We, too, see cause for celebration that St. Joseph has an important new weapon for attacking blight. We also see a long, slow slog ahead of us.