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St. Louis’ dollar house program leads to just 4 sales

The city of St. Louis has sold just four city properties under a program launched last year that allows people to buy homes for just $1.

St. Louis developed the Dollar House Pilot Program in hopes of selling tax delinquent properties that the city’s Land Reutilization Authority has received and of revitalizing struggling neighborhoods. Under the program, a buyer must have the financial means to renovate the property.

The requirements can be hard to meet, considering the condition of the buildings, said Otis Williams, director of the St. Louis Development Corp., which oversees the Land Reutilization Authority.

“Citizens often get a reality check when they go see the houses in person,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.  “They realize that this is a lot of work for this $1.”

Buyers have four months to stabilize the outside of the building according to city code and 18 months to obtain occupancy permit. They must then own and occupy the home for at least three years. The property goes back to the city if an owner doesn’t fulfill those obligations.

Williams said that in the coming months, the development corporation will review the program, particularly a requirement that the houses spend five years in the Land Reutilization Authority’s inventory.

St. Louis Alderman John Collins-Muhammad, who sponsored the resolution that directed the development corporation to set up the program, said it’s doing as well as can be expected.

“If we can come up with more innovative (incentives) to attract and retain developers, to renovate these homes in the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods, I think we can really turn around communities,” Collins-Muhammad said.

The Land Reutilization Authority has received 15 total offers under the program. Two were not approved; three applicants withdrew; and the authority canceled two offers. Two were given six-month options, and two are pending closings, according to the authority’s records.

The other four houses went to new owners, including Vivian Houston.

Houston, 61, said she has a heart condition and lives off of disability income. Her home is being renovated with the help of family members and contractors.

She says she jumped at the chance to buy a fixer-upper for $1.

“I’m older, and I’m tired of moving from place to place,” she said. “And you know, shoot, I’m on a fixed income. I can’t afford to pay a regular mortgage or rent.”


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