Throwback Thursday – Fire station 3

I am a fan of historic preservation. This old fire station is the home of Hope Breakfast Bar. The food is wonderful and so is the restaurant. The old fire station, built in 1872,  sat empty for years and was used for storage and almost demolished.

It sits on the corner of Grand Avenue and Leech Street and is surrounded by a newish hotel and luxury apartments. There are some coffee shops and a clothing store across the street.

The area has become a destination on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The street in front of the restaurant has been turned into an outdoor dining area.

before and after fire station
Fire Station becomes a restaurant

Hope breakfast bar

The weather has never been better

We get the best weather this time of year. It is cooler and dryer but not cold and right now the air isn’t smokey. The air conditioner is on but it does run much if at all and the furnace isn’t needed yet.

It is a great time for indoor and outdoor painting and landscaping projects and window washing too. Also great for walking, biking, and just being outside.

It is also a wonderful time to go house hunting. The number of houses on the market is up slightly.

If you are a homeowner planning to sell in the next year take some fall pictures of your house as the leaves start to turn.

Enjoy the weather any way that you can. We all know what comes next.

Maple Leaf
Maple leaf


City fines punish the poor

doll house

Fines from the city are sometimes used as punishments or incentives. The registered vacant building program is a great example. Some homeowners end up in the program because the city has determined that their home is not fit to live in. The house becomes a “category 2” registered vacant building even though the owner is often still living in it and there hasn’t been a code compliance inspection. Category 2 is the designation for multiple code violations.

The owners of these properties are charged a $5000 fee. When they can not pay it the fee is attached to their property taxes. The owners may be seniors on fixed incomes and others who are struggling to make ends meet. The largest concentration of these houses are in the neighborhoods with the lowest average home values.

Fines are not based on income they are the same for everyone.

For people who are living at the poverty level or slightly above a $5000 fine can cause a downward spiral that they can not recover from. It is meant to be an incentive to fix up the property but it doesn’t seem to work that way. It may be an incentive for wealthier homeowners and the owners of rental properties but for people who are struggling financially, it is just plain cruel.

Research done at the Humphry Institute suggests that cities target low-income residents and people of color with fines and fees. Court fees and legal fees can also disproportionally hurt the poor. They are not based on income.

To learn more about the City of St. Paul registered vacant building program go to and search for “registered vacant building program”. I don’t like to put links to pages on the city website because they rearrange them frequently and I end up with dead links.

Also, see The city of St. Paul is cruel to the elderly

There is a property tax deferral program in Minnesota for elderly homeowners who can not pay their property taxes. The program may help seniors who can not pay their property taxes.

I believe that there should be health and safety standards for property in St. Paul but I don’t think fining the poor is going to get us there. They will end up using money that could have been used to fix up the house to pay fines.

New Vs. Used

Several years ago I wrote an article for a real estate news website about how new construction isn’t greener. Old houses can be retrofitted to be more energy efficient. Tearing a house down is a huge waste of resources. Building a new house is expensive and resource intensive.

Houses in St. Paul get torn down and that makes housing more expensive because we don’t have enough of it and are not building more. There are vacant lots all over the city. Most are purchased by adjacent neighbors and used to grow grass or for a garage or for gardens or all three.

The city of St. Paul condemns houses stating that there are multiple code violations. The owners are not permitted to live in the houses. These houses are singled out for special treatment. They undergo multiple inspections by city inspectors and must be brought up to code.  See The city of St. Paul is cruel to the elderly

As these houses sit with the owner’s belongings still in them they can slowly rot away and may eventually be torn down. The owners will have to pay for a $5000 dollar permit and of course, the $550 so that the city can find all items that are not up to code.  If they have any money left over after paying the fines and thousands in property taxes they may be able to fix up the house.

If you are familiar with St. Paul you know that are housing stock it very old.  The city-wide median age is 100 years old which means half the houses in the city are older than that. Building codes continually change and most of our houses are not up to 2023 building code.

The demand for housing is high. We really can not afford to lose more single-family homes. Destroying housing isn’t good for the environment nor is it could for the future of the city. Next time you hear about a home slated for demolition in your community contact your district council and fight to save the house. In doing so you will help save St. Paul.

Current rules and laws have not kept up with the aging population and things are going to get worse unless we make some changes. We need to figure out how to save the houses and help the owners. Houses can be repaired, restored, and even retrofitted.


Houses that were vacant but are now missing


The city of St. Paul is cruel to the elderly

How to make a lot vacant

In St. Paul, someone can complain to the city about your property. Maybe they think your grass is too long. Maybe they don’t like you or the way you look. Maybe they want to buy your house and see that you are struggling to maintain it.

Someone complained about a barking dog at my house but we didn’t have a dog.

Another time someone complained about too many cats in our yard. We did not have a cat at the time.

Code enforcement in St. Paul is complaint driven. That means that the city does not pay attention to code violations unless someone complains.

The city can condemn a house. There used to be reports that we could see online through St. Paul property look-up that would show what was wrong with the house. They don’t do that anymore.

After a time and it depends upon the inspector a house can be condemned by the city and after that, the city can make it a registered vacant building and charge $5000 for a permit. There isn’t any consistency in this process. It can go on for months or for a decade.

Elderly homeowners on fixed incomes struggle to make repairs without the added burden of fines from the city.  If the fee isn’t paid it gets attached to the already sky-high property taxes They end up living in a car on the property or in a tent near the property because they are not allowed to live in the house.

In order to get the house uncondemned they must pay for a city inspection. City inspectors will go through the house and inspect it and create a list of repairs needed for code compliance.  If the owner doesn’t have the house inspected it can sit vacant and condemned for years.

The vacant building permit fee is $5000. That money could be used to fix up the property or to provide housing for homeowners who are not allowed to live in their own homes. At the very least the $5000 should cover an inspection that outlines exactly why the house is condemned.

The forced registered vacant building program does nothing to improve our housing stock. In fact, some of these houses rot as no one is allowed to live in the house. The program does not help improve housing safety for homeowners. In fact, I know of one situation where the elderly homeowner spent Christmas Eve sleeping in his car in sub-zero weather.

The only people I know who own condemned houses that they are not allowed to live in are over 70 years old.

These condemned category 2 houses may even be fit to live in. We don’t really know because the process lacks consistency and transparency. In fact, the city may be violating fair housing laws. I occasionally see houses that are filled with junk and have not been cleaned in years that are not condemned. The system is compliant-driven and lacks transparency.

City inspectors encourage owners of these properties to sell. The new owner would be responsible for the repairs.  Is there an age limit on homeownership?

Eventually, the owners have to sell or it is taken from them by a bank or for back taxes.  Sometimes the vacant property disintegrates to the point where it has to be torn down.

More often than not seniors who have lived in their homes for decades do not want to leave. In fact, I can’t think of anything that is more cruel forcing an elderly person to leave their home.

Homelessness among the elderly used to be rare now it is the fastest-growing group.

There has to be a better way!