How to Purchase Property from the St. Louis Land Reutilization Authority

You CAN purchase land and buildings from the city!

Timothy Kiefer
4 min readJan 25, 2019

I’d heard from many people that it is very difficult to buy property from the LRA. So much, that as we began looking for land for urban farming, I took a friend’s advice and went to tax sale instead. We purchased a lot, but it was wasn’t enough. The neighboring vacant lots are owned by a derelict owner who, contrary to our hopes, was not willing to part with his lots for a reasonable price. To get what we needed, it was clear we needed to work with The City, so we braced ourselves and got started. It couldn’t have turned out better, and I’m sharing my experience with you here to hopefully assist you in working with the LRA.

Be Patient

Probably the most difficult part for me. Like any government agency, the LRA is overworked. If you wait in the office, you’ll see staff buzzing in and out, Jamie answering the phones like a switchboard pro, and lots of people dropping in asking about parcels and how to purchase property.

Not only is there a massive amount of land to manage, and a steady flow of folks needing help figuring out how to go about getting some, I learned that they do a lot of work to make the best possible decisions when responding to offers. They will send out someone to check out your current property, that you are taking care of what you already have (especially if you previously purchased from the LRA).

Determine What You Need

Are you looking for a home? Do you need vacant land for gardening/farming? Investment property?

If you live next to a vacant, standard size city lot, you can apply for Mow to Own. Maybe, like us, you are passionate about food production, but you are not ready to commit to purchasing land — the Garden Lease could be helpful for getting started.

It is my desire to see the burden of abandoned property in our city become a thing of the past. Also, it’s so affordable that if you are able, I would encourage you to go all the way, not mess around with leases, or programs that take years of checking in and following up.

Exciting news: there has been talk of a Dollar Houses happening. Digging around on the site just now for this post, I discovered that the Dollar House Pilot Program has launched for this year. I look forward to following up with more information.

Locate Your Property

Check out the LRA-Owned Property Search site. This is how we got started.

This useful tool allows you to search all of LRA-owned property, with the ability to narrow down your search to ward, size, neighborhood, usage, zip code, and size.

You may also explore via a clickable map, which is very helpful for exploring specific areas.

Submit Your Offer by the Deadline

Every proposal is presented and officially voted on at the monthly board meeting, which is the last Wednesday of each month, skipped in November and early for December.

For your proposal to be considered in a particular month, you need to submit your proposal by noon the first Wednesday of that month. To see the list of meeting dates and deadlines, visit the LRA’s homepage.

Putting together a sheet with a detailed plan for how you’ll utilize the property will be a big plus for you.

Go over the Offer Checklist carefully to make sure you have everything ready. There is a new statement on this list that the Cut-off Date is incredibly busy, and they cannot guarantee every submission on the last day to make it on that months agenda. If time matters, turn your paperwork in early!

Don’t Be a Stranger

I have enjoyed getting to know the hard-working people at the LRA. The first person I talked to was Jamie, whom I mentioned earlier. If you call or stop by, likely you too will meet her as she is regularly holding it down. You’ll find her to be super helpful, and do as she advises!

If you are able, schedule an appointment to meet with Laura, the director. Especially if you are doing any projects beyond standard rehabbing, it will be to your advantage to make your intentions known and get feedback. In fact, our initial submission included three different options and Laura guided us to some other land that wasn’t even on our radar. We reapplied and successfully purchased the land she suggested, and it worked out perfectly for us.

Whether you are looking to make an offer soon, or are simply interested, I encourage every citizen of St. Louis to attend an LRA Board Meeting. If you are concerned about vacancy issues, this is where every single decision is made publicly. Meet the board, and see how your neighbors and elected officials are working through this problem.

If at First You Don’t Succeed

Do not be discouraged if your proposal is rejected or deferred. I recommend showing up a little early to the meeting you have an agenda on. Upon entering, right at the door there is a table with a stack of packets containing the full outline of the meeting. Search for your proposal and you will see the board’s recommendation.

Next to the outlines, there is a sign-in sheet for you to have the opportunity to speak. If you did not get the decision you were hoping for, you may make your case before every one. Maybe you won your proposal and you just want to say “thanks”?

Both of our submissions were “deferred” the first time. It seems like a bummer at the time, but it isn’t a big deal. Likely you may just need to meet with the staff and provide more information about your plans. They may request more specific details, or have feedback or recommendations. Just roll with it.

Best of luck to you and your plans! Even if you are not seeking to purchase property from the LRA in the near future, I hope to see you at one of the board meetings, and that may find yourself working to fix the abandonment issue in St. Louis.

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Timothy Kiefer

bootstrapper, soil farmer, urban agriculture professional || perennial.city