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The St Louis Contrarian

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

Archive for the month “May, 2017”

Urban Homesteading

I wanted to write again about Urban Homesteading, a program which I believe would be transformative for St. Louis and other communities. My previous work with this program in Milwaukee inspires my vision.

St. Louis has lots of vacant boarded houses in city possession. Urban Homesteading would allow for the transfer of these houses to individuals and families who agree to live in the houses and rehabilitate them to code. Title would transfer to the homesteader after successful completion of the rehabilitation. Some important caveats:

1. The rehab would need to be completed by professional contractors approved by the city. Sweat equity does not work in these situations.

2. The families selected for the program must be working and pass a screening. This will not work for people with significant social problems.

3. The properties must be carefully selected. They should be as close together as possible, and in a condition that allows for rehab.

St. Louis is working hard to attract young people to the city. This program can significantly help that effort.

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Workforce Housing

I have done extensive work through the years on Workforce Housing, which is loosely defined as housing that is affordable for average working people. Barriers to this sort of housing are similar but a little bit more subtle than barriers to affordable housing. What I am talking about here is single family or attached units that are fairly small, 1200-1500 square feet, on a small lot.

The key barriers involve issues such as:

1. Zoning- Many times zoning laws do not allow multiple uses within a given area thereby requiring large lots and only single family homes to be constructed.

2. Land use- Again issues such as width of streets, sidewalks, and lot sizes drive up costs significantly.

3. Excessive levels of hearings and paperwork- Many times the permitting process is cumbersome and redundant. St. Charles County requires duplicate inspections by building inspectors and the fire department. All this costs money, adding to the cost of a home.

4. Historic preservation- This is largely a problem in the City of St. Louis. In that city virtually everything is considered historic. Rehab or construction of houses in these areas required intricate design and levels of approval. Costs increase significantly for historically compatible structures. Often, the house itself is not significant but is located in a historic neighborhood.

5. Resistance to manufactured housing- Factory build manufactured housing is much cheaper to construct, is safer, and more energy efficient. Many communities still do not allow for this type of housing.

6. Resistance from neighbors- People who own larger homes are resistant to communities of smaller ones. Consequently we get zoning and land use requirements that require minimum lot and house sizes, thereby driving up costs. Research shows that quality built smaller homes actually add to the value of their more expensive counterparts.

These issues can all be addressed through government and community leadership and common sense and do not require funding. Conservatives and liberals alike should be happy to address these issues. Inclusionary zoning could be one tool to address this but it has proved too politically charged to work in most communities.

Short Sighted Action by State of Missouri

David Nicklaus had a good column today in the Post in which he lamented the loss of state funds that support business startups statewide, but particularly in the St. Louis area. These programs return far more in jobs and revenue than they cost. The St. Louis start up scene has been growing exponentially, we need to keep that up.

SCORE

I want to tell you a little bit about SCORE for which I am a volunteer. Our group is a national organization that was initially funded by the Small Business Administration. We are volunteers, often retired, who mentor people starting small businesses and also provide analysis for ongoing businesses who are looking to improve. In addition we provide a number of workshops in the region on important business topics.

Our mentoring services are free and the workshops are provided at minimal cost. We have volunteers from all area of business including accountants, attorney’s marketing experts, and tech people. Check us out at our website, SCORESt.Louis.com

St Louis City Academy

This is not a contrarian article except that it is the first in a series of tributes to little known leaders and programs in St. Louis.

St. Louis City Academy is a k-6 private school located on north Kingshighway. It was founded by Don Danforth who is still CEO. The students are from the city of St. Louis, almost totally African-American. 70% qualify for free lunches.

The results of this school have been incredible. The curriculum is very vigorous and the students are also taught to be respectful and kind. Almost all of them receive scholarships and end up going to high quality private middle schools and high school. The great majority start and complete college and are becoming leaders in our country.

What is the secret? I think great leadership at the school, great teachers, an innovative curriculum and most important parents or significant adult who care dearly about their child’s education. I have the privilege of volunteering there on occasion and it is an uplifting experience.

Metrolink

Metrolink our light rail system has been a favorite cause for progressives. We have heard all kinds of promises about how it would lead to economic development, cause St. Louis to become a world class city and cure cancer(just kidding). I believe it has been a failure, wasted hundreds of millions of dollars and increased crime. If you don’t believe me just ask merchants in the Loop or at Galleria. Recently someone was held up at gunpoint in broad daylight at the Metro station in Clayton, normally one of the safest cities in the region.

To make matters worse, efforts are now underway to expand Metrolink. There are many reasons why this is a bad idea. They include:

1. The cost is enormous
2. St. Louis is too sparsely populated to sustain the system
3. More people are working at home and don’t need to commute.
4. The job market is dispersed.
5. With light rail we are stuck with a given route. If conditions change there is no room for flexibility.
6. Self driving cars and van pools can be utilized to provide cheap and flexible transportation.

A vital public transportation system is still important. Metrolink has stood in the way of a viable bus system. I recommend lots of buses with flexibility in their routes, van pools, and other means of public transportation. The money spend on Metrolink can well be used to provide our region with a world class public transportation system.

St. Louis Affordable Housing Trust Fund

The St. Louis Post Dispatch had a good article about the status of the City of St. Louis Affordable Housing Trust Fund. This fund was voted on and approved by the voters of St. Louis about 15 years ago. The purpose of the fund is to construct, rehab, and preserve affordable housing. A hunk of the funds need to be used for persons at or below 50% of the area median income. It has served the community well and has contributed to neighborhood stabilization.

Mayor Slay and now Mayor Krewson have tapped into the fund for other purposes. While I am sympathetic to the financial needs of the city, the purpose for which the fund was established was for housing. I consider other uses to be illegal. Activists need to get on this issue.

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