Study finds high numbers of foreclosures, vacant homes on East Side damaging fiscal health of St. Paul overall

A new report by ISAIAH finds that the East Side of St. Paul, the area of the city with one of the highest concentrations of people of color, received the highest number of costly subprime loans before the mortgage market collapse and now suffers from the largest stock of vacant homes.

While concentrated on the East Side, the foreclosure crisis has serious implications for the fiscal health of the entire city and county—the loss of $6.1 billion in home value citywide could drain $46.3 million in annual tax revenue from Ramsey County and $15.5 million in annual tax revenue from the city.[i]

The report, “Lost Homes:  How the Housing Crisis has hit the East Side and North End of St. Paul” reveals that residents of the East Side have experienced higher levels of foreclosure, even as foreclosures slow nationwide. Since last April, the East Side and North End have had more foreclosure filings and sales than other neighborhoods in St. Paul.

“Our neighborhoods have been devastated,” stated Rev. Jonathan Zielske, Pastor of Hope Lutheran Church on the East Side. “People in my congregation live on blocks where half the houses are vacant. It’s driving down their property values and increasing crime. But, even beyond that, it’s demoralizing to the people who have devoted their lives to creating a community on the East Side.”

Some of the report’s findings:

  • Homes in the East Side, North End, and Thomas-Dale neighborhoods experienced the great­est loss of value, dropping 50% since 2006, whereas homes in the Mac-Groveland, Highland, and St. Anthony Park neighborhoods lost the smallest percentage of their value, less than 20%.
  • There are over 1,200 vacant residential buildings in St. Paul.
  • Ward 7 has more vacant buildings than any other ward in the city and more than 60% of the vacant residential buildings are in Wards 5, 6, and 7.


Vacant homes have been the site of numerous crimes.  In addition to burglary and trespassing, there have been several high profile incidents in St. Paul recently.  In March, police charged nine men and teens with dragging a 14 year old girl into a vacant home and sexually assaulting her.  That same month, a man was killed on the porch of a vacant home where he had gone to settle a drug debt.  In December, a homeless man died after starting a fire in a vacant house in Minneapolis.[ii]

ISAIAH and a coalition of community and faith groups held a conference last Fall with city officials to explore policies that would help the city recover from the foreclosure crisis including mortgage mediation, in which a lender meets directly with a distressed borrower to try to arrange a mutually beneficial repayment plan.

The study points out the fact that Minneapolis charges property owners $6,985 annually to register vacant buildings, while St. Paul charges just $1,200. ISAIAH argues that the city of St. Paul should increase its vacant building registration fee to offset the significant costs to the city of vacant buildings, but also to reduce the number of vacant buildings by spurring owners to sell or rehab their properties.



[i] According to, the value of the average home in St. Paul has declined $82,700 from April 2006 to January 2012.  There are 74,000 single family, duplex, triplex, condo units, and townhomes in the city of St. Paul, according to the Wilder Research Center’s “Census Facts.”    This calculates to a total of $6.1 billion in total lost home value. Using the Ramsey County tax rate of 1.01% of a home’s value, the loss in value means $61.8 million in lost property taxes.   The city receives about 25% of the total property tax.

[ii] “Vacant houses not always empty,” Star Tribune, April 30, 2012, Chao Xiong.