Soaring home prices in cities like New York and Los Angeles have drawn attention to the urgent need to increase the supply of affordable housing in the U.S. Yet, there is another serious drag on housing that demands attention: the growing number of vacant and abandoned properties that are threatening public safety, lowering property values and degrading the quality of life in underserved neighborhoods across the country.
In 2018, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri (Legal Services) launched the Neighborhood Vacancy Initiative (NVI) to address the growing and intractable issue of neighborhood blight in St. Louis’ urban core. Now one of the largest pro bono community development efforts in the nation, NVI, in collaboration with five of St. Louis’ top law firms, provides access to free legal services to empower individuals and resident-led community associations to take control of their neighborhoods.
Since 1956, Legal Services of Eastern Missouri has provided free civil (noncriminal) legal services designed to help individuals and families access safe, affordable housing, healthcare and public benefits; protect their children’s well-being; escape domestic violence; and resolve immigration issues.
Through its Neighborhood Vacancy Initiative, Legal Services staff members provide training to help its volunteer attorneys handle community action cases. At the same time, they also provide legal education to neighborhood associations and other community members.
“Parcel by parcel, block by block, we’re collaborating with our volunteer attorneys to help neighborhood advocates tackle disinvestment and displacement that feed the problem of neighborhood blight,” said Daniel K. Glazier, Executive Director of Legal Services of Eastern Missouri.
“Resolving these and other issues around homeownership opens the door to economic development, neighborhood revitalization and business activity expansion that can improve the safety and quality of life for everyone in the community. NVI provides a clear example of how Legal Services can partner with private law firms to equip neighborhoods in cities across the country with the tools needed to drive equitable and inclusive recovery and growth.”