According to the City of Saint Paul, This House is a Threat

Scarey, huh?

This is a turn-of-the-century home in my neighborhood, currently a duplex, just steps from a park and on a quiet, one-block stretch of Iglehart. The block has some beautiful homes, and is an original part of the Historic Hill District, the city's first historic district established in 1976.  It was moved into the lot in the 1980s, when a new housing complex was built across the street, so has new mechanicals and a new foundation. I haven't been in it, nor has anyone I know, but the reports I have seen show damage but not insurmountable issues. It's the kind of home that dozens of people I know would love to move into.

According to the City of Saint Paul, this house is a major threat to public safety and must be razed immediately. Yes, the city (including some neighbors, my councilmember, licensing, and various other city officials) considers this empty house not an opportunity, but a major threat to the community. Yes, more of a threat than the weekly break-ins in the bar parking lot next to me, or the daily drug sales in the empty lot next to the playground on the next block.

The house has been empty for the last twelve years, and it's frustrating. The owner keeps on saying he'll "get around to working on it," but doesn't do anything. It's had multiple "repair or remove" orders, and has even gone to tax forfeiture. Recalcitrant as the current owner is, he actually could not sell it (except under special circumstances) — due to the "Bostrom Amendment," a Category 3 vacant building cannot be sold without bringing it entirely up to code.

I've been working with a task force of neighbors for 6 months to come up with solutions to this, and gotten nowhere. Nicole Curtis has leveraged as much as she can, and made me appreciate her passion and commitment to old homes. To be fair, city officials have tried what they can, including tax court. Approved CDCs, such as Historic Saint Paul and Preservation Alliance of Minnesota, have tried to purchase it, but the owner simply won't respond.

There's much that's not ideal about this, which I'll admit from the beginning. But that long and short of it is, that this is a beautiful, historic, desirable and eminently rehab-able home that will be irreplaceably lost because no one has the courage or innovation to save it. It will be an empty lot, likely for the next several decades like the other empty lots in the neighborhood. It will likely draw more undesirable activity than a home with potential. And, according to the city's own studies, it will bring down the values of the immediately surrounding properties by 20% or more.

That's what's scarey. Not an empty home.


Edited to add: I really mean it when I say everyone has tried everything. The neighbors I have worked with have asked to buy it, cash in hand, multiple times, only to be rudely rebuffed. We have offered to keep up the maintenance of it while the issues was solved — again turned down. The city has come up with new ideas and taken it all the way to tax court — only to have the owner pay the back taxes and redeem the house literally at the last second. Licensing has attempted to stabilize it. Preservation non-profits have offered to but it and fix it up. Nicole has given an incredible amount of time and energy to the process. Literally hundreds of hours have been put in so far to try to find a solution. Although I am frustrated with city ordinances that leave only razing the home as a resolution (and one that will be so very costly, in so many ways, to the neighborhood I love), the ultimate fault here is with an owner who will not respond to the situation and who will basically force it to be torn down.


Edited to add: RIP. Demo'd June, 2013.


Anonymous said…
The owner hung up on me...twice:( try again tomorrow.
DNB said…
It would look immensely better with a good pressure washing. I'd love to buy the house and fix it out. It'd be wonderful. The owner is just being a lazy jackass. I'm sure there's someone that would be willing to hire the contractors needed to bring the house to code, as long as they have a signed contract stating that once to code he'll sell it to them. It always makes me sad to see vacant houses or empty lots.
Anonymous said…
How can they not see the beauty that lies within that house. I wish there was something I could do to help...even from Va I can tell this house just needs some TLC (and work) Save the HOUSES!!!
Anonymous said…
My City of Jackson Michigan has knocked down 100 of these homes that have been deemed unsafe.
The City is now targeting the Historic District homes for demolitions!
It is easy for my City to knock these homes (mostly foreclosed) down for $13K which is provided by HUD funds.
It is a complete misuse of governmental funds. Nicole's show really shows what SHOULD happen to these "threatening" homes!
Anonymous said…
What about Eniment Domain if the owner refuses to listen or respond?
Anonymous said…
Sounds like the owner is too proud or stubborn to admit the house is more than he or she can handle. Hopefully someone will find a way to get around that and the house can be saved. Good luck.
Anonymous said…
My thought exactly - this seems like what eminent domain *should* be used for - rather than to confiscate property for private profit. If the city can eventually tear it down, it's just stupid that they can't confiscate it before that becomes necessary. Maybe the one thing that hasn't been tried is changing some laws.
Di Payne said…
This breaks my heart and makes absolutely no sense. I'd love to have a house like this, in fact, plenty of people would jump at an opportunity like this. I'm not a lawyer but how about the "Adverse Possession Law"? Someone with more knowledge of MN law than me should look into that law quickly. It might be the "loop hole" needed to save this house and others like it.
Anonymous said…
Careful: My experience with eminent domain in St.Paul is that the city then tears down single family homes to put in unattractive apt bldgs because they cant get more tax dollars for "for profit" property with multiple units. These apt bldgs. often don't hold up well and in a few years the owner is looking to dump them. There is absolutely no commitment to the neighborhood.
Anonymous said…
As you know its Preservation Month, so I'd go to the newspaper and MPR and keep on blogging.
All else fails...break on in and take of adverse possession. Recheck possible foreclosure and tax issues. If this loser has any relatives they may be able to talk some sense into him...and oh yeah find out where he lives and have folks PICKET outside the house he lives in DEMANDING that he sell this one to you or to the City of STP or Historic St. Paul!
Sue said…
Could the owner have some kind of money deal going with the city and a developer or is he just crazy?
Anonymous said…
Any news? You've likely seen the news on 1925 Park Ave S in Minneapolis and Nicole's protest there as it was demolished. Will this sort of action (sad but necessary) be needed for this house?
Anonymous said…
Doesn't look "threatening" to me. Looks like it needs a little love.
Heather hudak said…
Unsure what the address is on this home...may have old info and may have talked to owner sometime between 2004-2008...just need address/owner name if have...unsure what threatening issues here but have seen a really sad case where vacant duplex owner had fully secured somehow deceased female's body was found offenders...serious crime issues that sadly do cause buildings to be torn down. Would love to try to saving houses...know how hard it really is and so much general public needs to be truthfully informed about!

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