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The St Louis Contrarian

Providing Independent and Intelligent Insight on St. Louis Public Policy Issues

State of Missouri Low Income Housing Tax Credits

Well the hammer has dropped. The Missouri Housing Development Commission. (MHDC) board voted today to eliminate the State Affordable Housing Tax Credits. These credits have been used in conjunction with federal affordable credits, historic credits, and other forms of subsidy and equity to build and rehabilitate affordable housing in Missouri. Governor Grietens has been pushing to eliminate these credits since he has taken office.

This action will make affordable housing in Missouri more difficult to accomplish. There will be fewer deals and less affordable rents. The state credit appears expensive in a simplistic way, but in terms of jobs creation and long term housing affordability it is critical.

There has been significant criticism of the multitude of state tax credits in Missouri. The reason for this is the unreliability of the state legislative process an the subsequent uncertainty to housing investors. My mild criticism of the industry for a long time has been that we are too reliant on tax credits and need to develop alternative sources of funding. Written by Paul Dribin

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Blues Practice Facility Again

Tony Messenger wrote today in the Post that the Blues practice in Creve Coeur Park is not a dead deal. What is going on? The feds will never allow this to happen. Does anyone agree with me that the Economic Development leadership in St. Louis County should be fired. They have been totally dishonest about the whole transaction. When will this nonsense end? Written by Paul Dribin

Health Care and Housing

More research is showing that good health outcomes are dependent on decent housing. We know that people who live in-substandard housing are more likely to have health problems, more frequently get admitted to emergency rooms. Excessive hospital stays for uninsured people drive up health care costs significantly. Hospitals are beginning to partner with housing professionals to find decent housing for frequent fliers to hospitals. I hope this starts to happen in St. Louis. Written by Paul Dribin

The Aldermanic System in St Louis

Some of the recent controversies in the city, including support for the Blues Hockey Club and development subsidies are tied to a basic problem in St. Louis, the aldermanic system. The city has 28 wards geographically divided. These are the same number of wards for a city of about 320,000 as for when the city included 1,000,000 residents. Worse yet, the aldermen act as little dictators of their own turf and make all development decisions and pretty much approve all city spending in their fiefdoms.

HUD provides Community Development Block grant funds to the city. Every year the city takes those funds, which are intended to be used in the areas of greatest need and divides them 28 ways. Many aldermen have their own development groups rather than partnering with larger organizations.

It is no wonder so little gets accomplished in the city when you combine this system with the archaic further divisions with the Mayor and Comptroller. It is no wonder that an organization like the Blues does not get a clear signal of who is in charge. It is no wonder that St. Louis lags economically behind other cities. Written by Paul Dribin

Blues Blues

The St. Louis Blues Hockey Club has been off to one of the best starts in hockey. Off the ice, things have not gone as well. Two recent additions to their ongoing saga:

1. The club’s practice facility will be built in a location other than Creve Coeur Park which has environmental issues. The location has not been revealed but will be in Maryland Heights.

2. More turmoil about paying for renovations to their arena. Alderman Cara Spencer has raised objections to the City of St. Louis deferring Payment in Lieu of Taxes by the Blues. Spencer complained this change was made without the knowledge of the Board of Aldermen. The whole issue will apparently be decided in an ongoing lawsuit which has raised legal objections to the city funding the arena renovations.

Side note- Tom Stillman who is the Principal Owner of the Blues did something incredibly kind for a friend of mine in recent months. Tom was a total stranger to this individual and really brightened his life. Written by Paul Dribin“`

Development Subsidies in St Louis

Once again the topic of development subsidies and community benefit agreements has surfaced in St. Louis. Alderman Green who had opposed subsidies now is in favor of them in her ward. In addition she had negotiated a Community Benefits Agreement. Critics have pointed out a certain degree of hypocrisy in the whole transaction. I have reached certain conclusions:

1. Whether people like it or not, significant development in St. Louis is not possible without subsidies. The market is simply too weak.

2. The Community Benefit Agreements need to be re examined. Sometimes these agreements can seem like extortion and or conflict of interest. The city is proposing standardizing the process. That idea makes sense as long as the process does not take too long. Written by Paul Dribin

Historic Tax Credits and Trump

President Trump has proposed in his tax plan to eliminate the Federal Historic Tax Credits. This would be a disaster for most cities, and most significantly, St. Louis. Federal and state credits have been effectively used in St. Louis for years to rehabilitate and develop housing that is historically significant. The dollar value has to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The value to the community is even higher. This for a tax plan that increases the deficit and simply lines the pocket of already very wealthy Americans. Second, this does not even get at the possible cuts in the State of Missouri Historic Tax Credits proposed by Governor Greitens Written by Paul Dribin

The Good and Bad About St. Louis

I know a young man who is a physician and has finished his fellowship in Boston. He is considering jobs across the country but would not consider one in St. Louis because of the crime rate, and general conservative attitude of the area. I can understand the attitude of he and his wife. I wonder, what did Pittsburgh do right to be considered a hot city. For many years I considered it much like St. Louis but now it is considered one of the most desirable cities in the country in which to live.

The crime is driving the negative attitudes toward St. Louis. There are so many positive aspects to the community. Affordable housing and great neighborhoods, short commutes, great cultural attractions, Resturant’s, professional sports. We could have it all if we got crime under control. Written by Paul Dribin

Proposition P

I am glad to see that Proposition P passed. This is a measure to increase the sales tax in St. Louis to increase Police Salaries. Critics of the police and activists have been opposed. I have never understood the logic of complaining about the police needing more training etc. and then denying them the money to do so. I fully realize these funds are only a small part of the effort needed to improve police-community relations, but it is a start. Written by Paul Dribin

Historic Preservation in St. Louis

St. Louis has a remarkable and significant historic housing stock. Preserving this stock is very important. Yet, I often question the method or lack of method in which it is carried out. I particularly have problems with how houses that are not historic but located in historic neighborhoods are treated. These houses must meet the same stringent standards of the historic houses even if they have no historic value of their own.

A big problem with the St. Louis approach to historic preservation is the notion than all old buildings are historic. This is simply not true. Second, the federal register characterizes historic buildings as being unique, which is not usually the case in St. Louis. Third, aldermen and other political leaders have pushed to designate neighborhoods as historic in an effort to spur development. Often is has the opposite effect. Costs get driven up significantly, making a developer’s ability to do a deal more difficult without subsidies. It has also caused too many buildings to stand vacant.

We need a more sensible approach that balances preservation with economic development. Perhaps expenditures for preservation should be no more than the end use value of the property. Flexibility needs to be added to the architectural standards. New and innovative architectural styles are not allowed under the preservation system. Modern architecture would not have been allowed. Written by Paul Dribin

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