Wednesday, May 15, 2013
According to the City of Saint Paul, This House is a Threat
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.