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The St Louis Contrarian

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

Archive for the month “January, 2018”

North South Metrolink Expansion

This is a copy of a letter I sent to the Post-Disptach on the subject of Metro Link expansion. It is self explanatory.

Written by Paul Dribin

I am writing to express my displeasure with the idea of Metro Link expansion and especially the north-

south route.

When you look at the overall costs of Metrolink and the number of people served it is a financial albatross which will only get worse. Expanding the routes will not help and will only hurt the problem. Security will continue to be a major issue.

More important, fixed light rail is an obsolete mode of transportation. It was really an early 20th century invention created to get masses of people to work when most everyone worked in the downtown and fewer people had cars. This is no longer the case. The job market is widely spread in the St. Louis region and we don’t have the population density to support light rail. The density in the city and county will probably lessen.

Finally new technologies are speeding the demise of Metrolink. More people work from home, work multiple jobs, or need a car to call on clients. Ride share services will increase their market share. Soon people will be able to call up self driving cars which will take you directly door to door. Why would someone ride Metrolink where you endure security challenges and the odds are you will still need transportation once you finish your ride.

If Metro wants to get ahead of the curve, they should dramatically increase bus service and even provide van pools for workers. They could invest in their own ride share and driverless car technologies so all our citizens can be served by these opportunities.

We should not be chasing federal dollars just because they are there. Redoing the same thing that did not work in the first place is the definition of insanity.

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St Louis Affordable Housing Trust Fund

Through the vision of longtime affordable housing advocate Janet Becker, the City of St. Louis has an Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The fund is filled as a percentage of out of state real estate transfer taxes and varies each year. Much good work has been accomplished through the use of this fund, but there are at least 2 problems.

The first problem is that the city has skimmed money off the top for other purposes. That is clearly illegal, but no one has seen fit to challenge it. The statute was clearly passed with the intention of all the funds being used for affordable housing.

Second, like many organizations in Missouri, the decision making process involving the funds is murky. I know of a small non profit who was not funded, and the Executive Director of the fund would not discuss the reasons for non acceptance. This is a clear violation of administrative due process.

The St. Louis Affordable Housing Trust Fund is a great idea. It needs to make some changes to fully live up to its’ mission. Written by Paul Dribin

HUD Failure

This story is not specifically about St. Louis, it is about a failure of HUD that would effect all communities.

I have represented a HUD insured Section 8 project in another part of the country. Their 20 year Section 8 contract is due to expire. HUD requires an analysis called Mark to Market which requires analyzing the rent structure, usually adjusting the rents down and lowering the mortgage. It requires a rent comparability study which is like an appraisal.

HUD used poor comparables in their analysis resulting in the rents being lowered for the project. They used old comperables from when the market was low. I was hired to help appeal to HUD. We lost. As a result the project owners are opting out of affordable housing and turning their project into conventional housing at higher rents.

So HUD’s error which they refused to acknowledge has caused the loss of 62 affordable housing units. This is ironic considering their mission is to preserve it. Something tells me that my situation is not unique. Written by Paul Dribin

Homelessness in St. Louis

Activists in St. Louis have mounted demonstrations against the Mayor and other city officials over the issues of homelessness. They have criticized the city for not making more homeless beds available and doing a better job of housing the homeless population. A poster child for this action has been a homeless man who died in a portapot before Christmas.

That gentleman’s story is symptomatic of the homeless problem. This individual had refused help from his family and from workers in an office building near his portapot. He consistently refused help; most likely having a mental health problem. I don’t know of any way the city could have managed this situation.

I work closely with the homeless issue in St. Louis. I help serve lunch every week at Biddle House. When the Larry Rice facility was shut we did not notice an upswing in people coming in for lunch. Where did his alleged population go? Also, as pointed out by the city, if there is an overflow in shelters churches step in and house people.

I don’t believe there are people sleeping on the streets who could not be admitted to shelters. I also believe if we built ten more shelters they would be full. The issue is complicated, but homelessness is a more fluid situation than most people understand. The answer to the problem is permanent supportive housing. Written by Paul Dribin

The limits of Historic Preservation

St Louis is a city tied up in historic preservation. Most of the city is in some historic neighbor or another. Is this a good thing?

Well, it depends. If you have a truly historic house the designation brings resources to the table to improve the property. If you have a non historic house in a historic district you could be screwed. That is because rehabbing that property will require historic preservation processes that will add significantly to the cost of rehabbing the house, often more than the value of the property itself. Properties get abandoned and neighborhoods deteriorate.

Alderman and other civic leaders have pushed to designate deteriorated areas as historic in an erroneous effort to create revitalization. If anything these efforts hurt.

What can be done? First develop a reasonable definition of historic. Not every old building meets the standard. Second allow more flexibility in design. We would never have had the modernist architectural style if every neighborhood had to conform to existing styles. Finally use a reasonable definition of historic. The federal register talks about unique. That would be a good starting point.

A Trivial but Important Issue

I want to write about a very small problem that affected me regarding my attendance at the Blues game Tuesday night. I am not writing this in the spirit of whining or griping but as an illustration.

I attend many Blues games, usually by myself(shows you how unpopular I am). I parked on Olive Street at about 15th. I arrived about 6:00 and put enough money in the meter to last one hour and fifteen minutes. I came back to the car after the terrible game (although I received a free blanket). Sitting on my windshield was a parking ticket. I discovered that ticket was written at 8:40.

I am not complaining about the $25 fine. I feel that is justice for all the times I have gotten away with things. But how does this treat visitors to downtown. Why is an isolated part of Olive with no businesses even open metered until 9pm? I can only conclude they are there to trick people like me. Meters should only be used in locations that have a premium on parking, not as a ruse to grab folks like me.

How many little policies are there in St. Louis which unnecessarily penalize people. There should be an evaluation completed of all the city policies that hurt people. The whole parking meter issue in St. Louis is a mess. It is used as a cash cow rather than a tool of traffic policy. Written by Paul Dribin

Two Contradictory and Yet Similar Views of Missouri

I take the lists of best and worst to not be worth very much. Nevertheless in the competitive world of travel and jobs maybe they do play a role.

First, a list I just saw ranks St. Louis as the very best place for a young person to move. The report cites the low cost of housing and cultural amenities. I think we all know that, the question is how do we harness it to bring more young people here and retain the ones we have. I would suggest offering a free weekend trip to St. Louis for anyone who wants it who live a certain distance away. Paying for this would of course be an issue but maybe the Regional Chamber can tighten up on some of their salaries to do this. Our cultural amenities are on a par with the greatest cities in the world

On the extremely negative side, Fodor’s published a list of where not to travel in the world, Missouri was listed right up there with Myanmar and Cuba( actually you would be safer in Cuba for sure). I don’t know why Missouri is worse than some other redneck states but we are. Much of it goes back to the NAACP report from awhile ago. Written by Paul Dribin

A Practical Method to Lessen Violent Deaths in St. Louis

The new police chief of St. Louis held a press conference in which he discussed targeting the relatively small number of individuals who account for most of the gun violence. The date in the hands of the city would seem to indicate the identities of the key perpetrators. This idea makes total sense. My only question is why they were not doing it before.

Boston and San Bernardino has adopted this approach with additional carrots and sticks. They use other community based folks, often ex offenders to reach out to the perpetrators and offer them supports such as job training etc. to leave crime. If they refuse they are promised the full brunt of the law. In both places crime has been significantly reduced.

I believe the ultimate intervention is to offer mentoring from the time of birth to any at risk child and family that want it..A definition of at risk could be children who would qualify for free school lunches. This would require many volunteers and staff but would ultimately turn around the cycle of crime. Written by Paul Dribin

St Louis County Mayhem

Since Steve Stenger has been elected County Commissioner, there has been mayhem in county government. I hold Stenger primarily responsible for this. He has governed in an arrogant manner and does not seem to be able to get along with members of the council. The council itself has their own partisan agenda. County government which used to be boring, is now filled with ridiculous and childish behavior. Seems like a mini version of Trump. Written by Paul Dribin

Candlelight Vigil

On New Years Eve the organization Families Achieving Safe Streets held a candlelight vigil for the 200+ victims of murder in St. Louis. This event received a newspaper article or two but no where near the media coverage of the demonstrations related to the lack of conviction of a cop who killed a drug dealer trying to kill him.

Where are our priorities? Almost every day there are murders, sometimes of innocent bystanders, and nobody says anything. If a cop gets a little out of line all hell breaks loose. That’s why we struggle as a city. Written by Paul Dribn

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