Transforming Communities Through Demolition

As Equity Homes prepares to demolish its 400th derelict house in North St. Louis County, Jacqui Davis, Demolition Manager and Director of Housing Strategies, reflects on how demolition is a key component of neighborhood revitalization.

“Abandoned, dilapidated houses are more than just an eyesore,” Davis explained. “They lower property values, provide a place for criminal activity, and are dangerous to kids and teens who might think it’s ‘fun’ to explore an abandoned house, not realizing that there are hazardous materials and structural dangers, such as the ceiling or floor collapsing on them.”

Demolition is one service that Equity Homes, a nonprofit founded by The Equity Network, provides to communities in the Normandy Schools Collaborative footprint. Its mission is to Build Equity, which it achieves by revitalizing neighborhoods and building new, affordable, quality housing.

At the time of publication, Equity Homes has demolished 397 houses and six commercial properties. Davis anticipates that her crew will complete at least 60 additional demolitions in 2022. All demolitions are completed at almost no cost to the municipalities.

“We charge municipalities only a small fee to demolish an individual or commercial property,” Davis explained. “The real cost of the demo work is covered by grants, freeing up the municipalities’ time and resources.”

Many areas have at least one derelict house that is the bane of the neighborhood: the one that has stood empty for years, attracting crime and driving down property values. Neighbors wonder why their city can’t simply tear down the house and sell it to a developer or turn it into a community green space. However, Davis explained that the process is not that simple and typically takes 3-6 months of preparation.

 “First, we identify a property that is abandoned and severely delinquent on property taxes,” Davis explained. “Then we talk to the municipality officials, who vote to pass an ordinance to purchase the property from the county. With a passed ordinance, the municipality applies for the deed to the property. Once the deed is transferred to the municipality, we can start initial process for demolition, which is an additional 8-12 weeks of preparation, including working with the Department of Health to identify hazardous materials. However, once everything is in order, it only takes a day or two to demolish the property and clear the site.”

Davis described the excitement that neighbors express when they see the crew arrive in the morning and clear out the lot completely by the end of the day.

“On one job, we met a man who had been petitioning his city for years to demo the derelict property next door,” Davis recalled. “He watched us tear down the house and clear the property in a matter of hours, and he was so excited that he was dancing and singing on his front porch in celebration. The city then sold him the property, and he turned it into a community garden.”

Municipalities often sell the cleared properties back to the community to use as a green space or garden. On other occasions, they sell the lots to developers to build new, quality homes. Communities are happy to see a lot that was once a blight on the neighborhood become a space that they can all enjoy.

“Our work would not be possible without the help and support of city and community leaders,” Davis stated. “With city leaders and residents, we are working to create safer, cleaner, more desirable neighborhoods.”

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