Investigating the abandoned property problem in East St. Louis - KMOV.com

Investigating the abandoned property problem in East St. Louis

EAST ST. LOUIS (KMOV) -- Columbus Liddell raised a family in his East St. Louis neighborhood. Now, his block has a half-dozen vacant homes.

“It was the nicest neighborhood you could move in,” he said. “It’s hard to swallow. It’s hard to swallow because I know I’m not the only one paying taxes in east St. Louis and at least East St. Louis could show us what it’s doing with some of the money.”

Liddell’s neighborhood isn’t the worst. On the 2900 block of Converse News 4 found partially demolished homes. It’s unclear how long they’ve been like that. A News 4 investigation found that much of the vacant land and housing is owned by speculators who do not live in East St. Louis.

Several auctions have featured property taken from previous owners who didn’t pay their taxes. Five years ago, News 4 watched as two men from Chicago bought land in East St. Louis at a faster rate than anyone could remember. Now, the three companies based out of a small home in Skokie, Illinois own nearly 800 pieces of property, hundreds more than the next largest private landowner.

A.J. Baba, who refused to name his investors during an interview five years ago, was the only publicly identified company official. He planned to do nothing with the property.

“You know the problem with a lot of this stuff is that you build something and they destroy it,” Baba said. “So you gotta wait for some positive aspect.”

A News 4 investigation found dozens of property owners in the East St. Louis area who own vacant houses in states of serious dilapidation. Sieron and Associates owns about 500 pieces of property, many of which are in disrepair. Other abandoned houses belonged to failed speculators like St. Louis mortgage banker Sean Hutto.

Hutto was sued at least eight times by major banks who filed foreclosure notices against him. One of the houses he bought is right next to Columbus Liddell.

“If I could get a fair price for mine I would move tomorrow just to go somewhere where I won’t have to look at this every day,” he said.

During his five years as mayor, Alvin Parks has repeatedly talked about his commitment to making the city look better.

“You cannot have public nuisances throughout the city, clearly you cannot have properties that are not taken care of.”

There’s no question that city demolitions have eliminated nuisance properties, but even in some of the city’s best neighborhoods, News 4 found abandoned houses that should be torn down.

The city has issued notices of violation to the owners of some of these buildings, but has not been effective at collecting many of the fines.

Plagued with financial problems, severe budget cuts and inefficiencies, the city admits it needs help dealing with the problem.

Last week, News 4 investigated the problem and described how widespread it was. We identified owners of properties that are clearly a public nuisance. Yvette Tanner lives next to a fire damaged home that was cited nine months ago for code violations.

“This is the end of May,” she said last week. “Nobody follows through on anything around here. I’m not surprised.”

A Saint Clair County grand jury is investigating public nuisances in East St. Louis. Yesterday, the state’s attorney requested documents related to the worst properties in the city, presumably to present that evidence to the grand jury for possible indictments.

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