- Associated Press - Thursday, May 5, 2016

ST. LOUIS (AP) - A St. Louis program announced Thursday aims to address the problem of abandoned properties by giving neighbors an opportunity to obtain them at a bargain price.

City leaders launched a program called “Mow to Own.” Anyone living next to a vacant lot can get it for $125 as long as they agree to maintain it. The lot is actually free; the $125 fee covers the title transfer and a lien that will be lifted after two years if the new owner keeps the lot maintained.

“We know there are a lot of good neighbors who are anxious to see these lots put back to productive reuse,” Mayor Francis Slay said in a statement.

The city becomes owner of an abandoned property after five years of unpaid taxes. Foreclosure sales seek to sell the abandoned property, but plenty are never sold.

City officials say vacant lots are a drain on resources. Slay’s office says it costs more than $1 million annually to mow abandoned lots and land around vacant buildings.

The lots are also a source of neighborhood complaints, a place for potential criminal activity, and a waste of good land, officials say.

About 4,000 small vacant lots are available through the Mow to Own program.

Other efforts are underway to address vacant buildings and abandoned lots in St. Louis. In December, the city announced a program to demolish about 1,600 abandoned buildings. Tree farms are planned on 42 lots. And Slay appointed a Vacancy & Blight Task Force that includes two teams from AmeriCorps.

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