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The St Louis Contrarian

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

Archive for the month “December, 2017”

HUD Loans in St. Louis County

The St. Louis Post Dispatch wrote today in a critical manner that St.Louis County had not utilized some $24 million in HUD loans intended to help distressed areas. These loans commonly referred to as 108 loans from the section of the housing act they fall under are part of HUD’s Community Development Program. HUD has threatened to pull back the funding if the money is not used.

It is not quite fair to be too critical of the county in this regard. First, the interest rates on the funds are only 1% lower than market and contain much more paperwork. Second, they do not work well on small projects such as housing rehab. The county needs to come up with one or two big projects for their utilization. Third they are loans not grants and the borrowers must be creditworthy. Finally, these loans are borrowed against future block grant funding, and in fact reduce the future funding by the amount of the loan.

The county had request a waiver for use of the funds and has not received an answer from HUD despite repeated requests for a decision. This whole thing smacks of HUD covering their collective asses. Written by Paul Dribin

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Homelessness as Part of a Housing Continuum

In the housing world it seems for the most part that people deal either with affordable housing and homelessness. One develops and manages projects and the other provides services for homeless people. I have discovered that really affordable housing is one continuum with chronic homelessness where poverty and mental illness interact. Other people are periodically homeless due to circumstances such as job loss or divorce; these people are acutely homeless. Finally many other people on the continuum lack affordable housing and suffer from the results. They tend to pay too much of their income for housing, live in substandard housing, or double up. All of these folks need both housing support and social services to a greater or lesser degree. Housing practitioners would do well to view both housing and homelessness this way. Often our view of these issues get nuanced by our day to day work and funding sources. Written by Paul Dribin

The Ghost of Larry Rice

The Reverend Larry Rice has been a controversial figure in St. Louis. For years he ran a homeless shelter and refused to cooperate with authorities, did not allow inspections, made religious conversion a requirement for admission, allegedly housed many more people than he was licensed for, and required residents of his facility to work for free on his farm. He also owns a radio station. Reverend Rice was a constant thorn in the nose of the establishment.

I argue that even more important, his work was a hinderance to homeless people improving their lives. I have a friend who is a former homeless person who said Rice actually enable homeless behavior and got in the way of people looking and preparing for jobs. I help serve lunch at Biddle House which is affiliated with St. Patrick’s Center. When Reverend Rice’s facility was finally shut by the city, we expected to find many more people coming for lunch. Actually, we did not. Our conclusion is that Reverend Rice never had nearly as many people living in his facility as he claimed. Rice has tended to be a popular figure with liberals because he thumbs his nose as the establishment. That support was a big mistake. Written by Paul Dribin

Community Reinvestment Act

The Community Reinvestment Act was a piece of legislation passed in the seventies which has had a very positive effect on urban development. This law required all regulated financial institutions to lend in non traditional areas and develop underwriting standards to allow this to happen. It has resulted in millions of minorities and minority communities receiving home loans. The program has also made money for banks and contrary to conservative ideology was not the cause of the housing collapse.

The Trump administration is trying to weaken the law. With everything else going on, this has not received much attention. We should be paying attention to this whole issue. Written by Paul Dribin

Loop Trolley Again

Tony Messenger has written in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that when the Joe Edwards group applied for federal funding for the trolley, they promised $5 million in private funds. Not one dollar of these funds has ever appeared, yet they are asking for more money from St. Louis County. What gives? How inept can people be? Written by Paul Dribin

Community Mediation

The City of St. Louis last week passed an ordinance enabling a Community Mediation Board. This organization which has existed in the past has been strengthened. The Mediation Board will provide an informal means for people to settle disputes without having to go to court. Of course like all mediation both parties have to agree. It seems like a good idea, but kind of like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. Unless crime is addressed in St. Louis we will stagnate and decline. Written by Paul Dribin

Measurement of School Districts

I read a fascinating article in the New York Times which verified my thoughts about measuring educational progress. The success of school districts has been typically measured in terms of average test scores. This gives a distorted view of school districts with low income students who often start school behind the eight ball.

Research has now shown that the most meaningful measurement of progress is to measure the starting test scores and the ending test scores five years later. The progress is what is considered most important. The best performing school districts get students up to grade level in five years. I always thought the most meaningful accomplishment was for each student to demonstrate marked improvement. Interestingly, the Chicago School District had the best record in the country by this metric.

Written by Paul Dribin

The Blues Again

Word is out that the Blues are now one of the most profitable teams in the National Hockey League. More reason they don’t need public subsidies. Also, Darlene Green, the Comptroller has been forced to sign the agreement by the court. It is time for this issue to be resolved and everyone move on. Written by Paul Dribin

Housing and Schools

One of the biggest barriers thrown up against the construction of affordable housing, or housing in general, is that the increased number of children will negatively impact the schools. This is often a code for more racist beliefs. In any case, I am supplying an article from Shelterforce Weekly which quotes a study that disputes that notion. Like the author, I am skeptical that facts will change anyone’s mind.

BlogHousing

Adding Housing Doesn’t Overcrowd Schools

Miriam Axel-Lute

November 30, 2017

‘Monopoly’ by Rodrigo Tejeda, via flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Only a few things in life are certain: Death, Republicans trying to cut taxes on the wealthy, and the fact that people opposing new housing development will bring up the possibility of overcrowding the local school system.

The fears trotted out in the face of proposed affordable housing developments rarely come to pass. One of our most popular articles describes how the claims made about four specific developments were evaluated after they were built and found to have either not happened, or happened to a much smaller extent than feared. “Many of the common fears about affordable housing are either overstated or simply wrong,” that article concluded, but it called for more systematic study.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council has delivered with a study that examines the relationship of new housing development and school enrollment in 234 public school districts across Massachusetts. It found they are not correlated at all:

We find that the conventional wisdom that links housing production with inevitable enrollment growth no longer holds true. At the district level, we observe no meaningful correlation between housing production rates and enrollment growth over a six-year period. While it is true that schoolchildren occupying new housing units may cause a marginal change in enrollment, they are one small factor among many. In cities and towns with the most rapid housing production, enrollment barely budged; and most districts with the largest student increases saw very little housing unit change.

There are too many other factors, including changing demographics and bidding up of prices in desirable school systems, that are affecting enrollment numbers. Housing production just isn’t registering.

Is Evidence Enough?

This is good news for housing advocates. Who wouldn’t want an evidence-based rebuttal to NIMBY fears (or what they claim to fear when what they actually fear is not acceptable to admit in public)?

However, I have my own fear. The idea of “more housing units will equal more students” has such an intuitive logic to it (after all, families with children who will go to the public schools could move in), and confirmation bias is very strong. I therefore worry that this will be one of those cases where trying to win a point merely by presenting contradictory evidence might just cause people to dig in their heels. Of course, hopefully decision makers will be more open to evidence than those who are trying to influence the decision makers, but that’s not a guarantee.

It seems to me like this study probably shouldn’t be trotted out during particular permitting fights without being paired with the details of the situation of a particular school system and its capacity, and the particular housing market. For example, is more school enrollment even actually a bad thing? (Many suburbs are seeing marked declines in enrollment, says the MAPC study.)

This is probably also a really good time to review best practices for engaging in high-conflict conversations—leading with values statements, using language that brings people in rather than reinforcing their ideas, shifting the overall narrative.

Here’s hoping that used carefully, these fascinating findings can help smooth the way for more housing where it is needed.

Audit of St. Louis

The Post published a story over the weekend about a group of citizens raising money for an audit of the City of St Louis. It seems this is part of their effort of complaining about the police department. In any case, it is a bad idea that will not accomplish anything. Audits simply count the pennies and put them in piles. They usually don’t get at the larger management problems. Written by Paul Dribin

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