News & Events

Repurposing Vacant Lots in STL

Author: Anna Chott, Sustainability Planner at East-West Gateway Council of Governments











EarthWays Center staff, Outdoor Youth Corps, and St. Louis University medical students teamed up to clean up a vacant lot with the Sunflower+ Project. (photo credit: Richard Reilly)







Like many cities across the United States, St. Louis has a large number of vacant lots. But with nearly 1 in 5 lots within city limits vacant, St. Louis has one of the highest vacancy rates in the nation.


Vacant lots pose various issues, including attracting illegal dumping and litter and negatively affecting community pride. They can also become a safety concern. According to the St. Louis Regional Crime Commission—a nonprofit founded in 2006 comprised of area police chiefs, business owners, and civic leaders—vacant and derelict buildings account for about 40% of the fires in the City of St. Louis. Data show that crime often occurs in or near vacant buildings with about one-third of police calls coming from within 150 feet of a vacant property. 


Allowing buildings to become rundown and go unused is also an environmental concern. Globally, roughly half of raw materials extracted from the Earth go into the built environment. Additionally, construction is estimated to produce one-third of the world's waste and at least 40% of CO2 emissions. To address this problem, we should maintain buildings and repurpose their materials, rather than allowing them to fall into disrepair.


So what is being done in St. Louis to address vacancies? 


Revitalizing Vacant Lots with Green Spaces

The St. Louis Vacancy Collaborative and Green City Coalition developed a toolkit for revitalizing St. Louis’s vacant lots, including turning them into urban orchards, rain gardens, play spaces, and more. One highlighted example is the Sunflower+ Project, which is a biodiversity/pollinator project and outdoor classroom that activates a vacant lot until it is redeveloped. The project recently celebrated its 10th year in Old North St. Louis. 


Brightside St. Louis offers Neighbors Naturescaping grants for beautification projects, free flower seedlings, and tools to borrow such as rakes, shovels, and litter grabbers. Find more information about these resources here


The Community Development Administration (CDA) recently offered Neighborhood Transformation Grants to fund projects in Economic Justice Index priority areas and Qualified Census Tracts (QCTs) in the city. CDA encouraged non-profit organizations to submit proposals for a wide range of projects, including gardens and green spaces on vacant land, affordable housing production, home repair, and neighborhood beautification and capacity building. The deadline to apply for funding was May 15, and recipients are expected to be announced in July. 


Anti-Foreclosure Support

The Real Estate Tax Assistance Fund (RETAF) helps combat the displacement of St. Louis homeowners facing foreclosure by providing up to $3,500 in tax assistance.  Legal Services of Eastern Missouri offers various services to help residents and community-based organizations prevent vacancy and property abandonment. These services include problem property litigation, assistance with challenges that contribute to property abandonment, and other technical assistance. The Vacancy Collaborative offers a list of resources for residents to avoid foreclosure and eviction. 


Rehabbing Vacant Homes

Many businesses and organizations also work to rehab vacant homes. One such company is  Dream Builders for Equity, which pays teens $15 an hour to rehab houses in North St. Louis. Beyond Housing has rehabbed hundreds of homes in North St. Louis. The Revitalization of Baden Association acquires vacant homes and offers them to new homeowners through a “Rehab to Own” program. The St. Louis Vacancy Collaborative offers a wealth of information for neighborhood associations, residents, and rehabbers/contractors to address vacancies. 


These are only a few of the many initiatives in the St. Louis region to prevent vacancies and restore vacant lots. Consider getting involved with these efforts to help make our communities safer, greener, and more thriving.

Sunflowers planted on a vacant lot as part of the Sunflower Project. The project helps encourage biodiversity and pollinators in the city. (photo credit: Richard Reilly)