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The St Louis Contrarian

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

Archive for the category “community building”

Hope vi

Hope VI is a now discontinued public housing program that completely rehabilitated distressed public housing projects in this country.   The idea behind the program was to combine physical rehabilitation social services and create mixed income communities. I had the opportunity to work on the Darst Webbe program in the near south side.  That program has been successful in creating a mixed income community and has led to improvements in surrounding neighborhoods. 

Recent research has evaluated HOPE VI.  The program has not really transformed lives and it was noted that displaced public housing residents did not readily move back 

I believe the program has provided urban development benefits but has not significantly improved the lives of residents. The cost is quite high and demolition and new construction may have been cheaper. The jury is still out on mixed income housing. I have serious doubts that given a choice anyone would opt for this type of housing 

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Beyond Housing

In writing about great organizations in St Louis Beyond Housing is probably the best. They have been in business for years and fully realize that community development must be comprehensive and is hard work. 

They are focused on Pagedale  and the Normandy School District. Their projects include housing development and rehab,homeownership training, foreclosure prevention,and economic development. They have brought a movie theatre, grocery store, and bank  to the area. They have created the 24:1 imitative which is bringing the smaller communities together to meet common goals.

Their leader is Chris Krehmeyer a talented, passionate, and caring individual. I am proud of their work

The Big Idea

I am repeating an idea I have expressed in previous blogs because I believe it is so important. The idea is that low income people would be significantly better served by a guaranteed income rather than construction of affordable housing. I am writing this for the following reasons:

1. Too much of the money spent on affordable housing is siphoned off to third party people and does not directly benefit the low income resident.

2. Construction is just too hard to get right. Studies have shown that very little affordable housing is build outside areas of concentration of poverty. Research again shows that low income people concentrated in poverty stricken areas have much less chance to improve their lives.

3. Income supplements largely eliminate the stigma attached to affordable housing. People could rent where they liked, use funds for a downpayment on a house, or make the normal market choices that other people do.

4. Desegregation would be easier.

5. The program would benefit more people than a construction program.

6. The program would provide benefits to more landlords and developers. Why? Because if implemented on a full scale the funds generated would provide tremendous demand for an increased number of apartment units. Apartment developers could feel confident there units could be leased.

I have a couple qualifiers to go along with the positive points:

1. These funds should not discourage employment. I would see them as a supplement to low wage jobs and not a substitute for employment. Someone who worked would actually be better off.

2. There still need to be construction programs to target special needs populations-persons with disabilities,elderly, and homeless people.

3. There needs to be a strong mortgage program in place to support the increased housing development. The FHA multifamily programs are potentially excellent, they need to be streamlined and simplified.

I am not confident that my concept will be enacted any time soon. I do think it is one of those rare ideas that can unite progressives and conservatives.

Better Together

Better Together is a non profit group formed to help bring the region together and eliminate redundant units of government and has indicated the unnecessary spending levels caused by the large number of governmental units. I have a little concern with the group because the board consists of the same old moneyed interests that have guided St. Louis down the tubes. Nevertheless, I welcome every effort to improve our feudal and futile governmental system. They have recently released a report that again documents the terrible costs of a large number of small governments. Here is their vision statement:

VISION

Striving together to create a just and prosperous Saint Louis region.
MISSION

We support the St. Louis region by acting as a catalyst for the removal of governmental, economic, and racial barriers to the region’s growth and prosperity for all of our citizens by promoting unity, trust, efficiency, and accountability.
COMMITMENTS
We are committed to fact driven research to address the challenges of fragmentation in the region and to inform policy.
We are committed to open and direct dialogue with all constituencies and stakeholders for the greater good of our community.
We are committed to supporting organizations that share our mission and vision.

Here is the announcement about the report. I urge you to read this and look into what you can do to bring the region together. The St. Louis region will not prosper until these issues are addressed:

Better Together Releases Report Showing Government Spending in St. Louis Continues to Grow, Announces Task Force to Study Models and Propose Solutions
Jun 12, 2017 |
Better Together Releases Report Showing Government Spending in St. Louis Continues to Grow, Announces Task Force to Study Models and Propose Solutions
Government spending continues to grow in St. Louis—fueled by 100 tax increases during the last five years—new task force to study models and propose solutions
Introduction
Today, Better Together released an update to one of its essential studies that they performed in 2014 and revealed the next steps for the organization.
The original study—Regional Spending Comparison Overview—reported that overall spending for municipal services in St. Louis was $2.3 billion and that when compared to Indianapolis and Louisville, two cities that have consolidated their governments, St. Louis was spending between $750 million and $1 billion more per year. Researchers at Better Together were curious as to what had happened with spending over the last three years and undertook to update this report.
Spending for municipal services grew by $119 million
The overall spending for municipal services has grown to $2.5 billion annually. This is due to an increase of $119 million in just the past three years. “Our research shows that our region is spending $119 million more per year than we were just three years ago. This increased spending was paid for largely through 100 tax increases. At the same time, 2016 census estimates show that population declined in both the city and county by 8,625 persons overall. So, we are paying more to deliver the same services to fewer people,” said Dave Leipholtz, Director of Studies for Better Together. “By way of comparison, our peer cities of Indianapolis and Louisville continue to grow and thrive.”
A call to action
“The next phase of our Better Together project is to identify and report on governmental reforms that can improve the cost and effectiveness of St. Louis’ municipal services,” said Nancy Rice, Executive Director of Better Together. To that end, Better Together is forming a task force which will lead this next phase and ultimately issue reports and recommendations to the community. Leading the task force will be:
Suzanne Sitherwood, President and CEO of Spire (formerly Laclede Group), who came to St. Louis from Atlanta and has become deeply involved with her new home community. She is the incoming Chair of Civic Progress and Chair of the community-wide United Way campaign, and previously chaired the Saint Louis Regional Chamber.
Will Ross, Associate Dean for Diversity, Professor of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine. Dr. Ross has a long and distinguished record of involvement in the St. Louis community and served as Chairman of the Missouri Foundation for Health.
Arindam Kar, Partner at the international law firm of Bryan Cave LLP. Kar specializes in anti-trust litigation. He, his wife and five children call south St. Louis county home. Mr. Kar is active in the community, devoting time to the International Institute, the United Way, the Regional Business Council Young Professionals Network, and the Gateway Region YMCA.
How should St. Louis government be organized?
The Task Force and Better Together staff will endeavor to issue reports and recommendations on ideal governmental structures for St. Louis. To accomplish that, they will work with other community organizations and the general public. “We want to give St. Louis residents the opportunity to choose an ideal governmental structure—one that will provide high quality services in a cost-effective manner,” said task-force member Suzanne Sitherwood. Another member, Dr. Will Ross agreed, “we aspire to create a region steeped in racial, social, and economic equity where everyone can achieve their full potential. We hope to recommend a structure that allows the St. Louis region to provide opportunities for all our citizens while celebrating the uniqueness that has made St. Louis a wonderful place to call home.”
Mayor Krewson and County Executive Stenger endorse effort
Mayor Lyda Krewson and County Executive Steve Stenger attended Better Together’s press conference and showed support for this effort.
“Over the last two years I’ve seen the limitations that our current structure places on us. It frequently prevents us from changing and adapting to the times we live in. Businesses struggle with our fragmentation,” said County Executive Stenger. “In order for us to reach our true potential, we must make some changes. I’ve heard many solutions talked about, and without a formal presentation of options and without a deep dive and a thorough analysis we will not know which path forward is the correct one. But I know it’s time for us to look hard at the alternatives, to perform the necessary analysis, and choose a path forward with respect to these issues.”
Mayor Krewson agreed. “I recognize that the city is going to have to change in order to thrive. I said that many times during my campaign and these first several weeks in office have affirmed that opinion. I’m grateful to Better Together and the task force for taking this on and I look forward to their findings.”
Stenger and Krewson pledged to work with the Task Force as needed. “The time for this effort is now,” said Stenger.
To view the updated report in full, visit: http://www.bettertogetherstl.com/regional-comparison.

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St. Louis Development Guidelines

The City of St. Louis has issued draft development guidelines for the use of incentives. This material is very important and perhaps controversial. Here is the link:

https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/sldc/documents/upload/Development_Incentives_Input_Session_FINAL_06-08-17.pdf

Development Incentives in St. Louis

The City of St. Louis has for years handed out huge development subsidies in the form of TIFs, tax abatement, and other measures. They also offer soft second loans on developments which usually do not need to be paid back. Are these incentives effective? It is difficult to know. The Board of Aldermen Hud Committee is proposing a more rational approach to this issue and is gathering testimony from the public. Everyone involved in development needs to pay close attention.

My take on incentives is that it is difficult to use a formula to provide incentives. Ideally the development getting help would not be built without the incentives and the project would provide a real boost to the city. The Chase Park Plaza Hotel comes to mind. There would be less need for incentives if the city had a more rational, and fair permitting and development process. Most developers tell me the city is the most difficult place to do business.

Used of CDBG Funds in St. Louis

The Community Development Block Grant is a program devised by HUD to provide flexible funds to community to meet broad based urban development needs. Cities of over 50,000 people receive the funds on a categorical basis based upon poverty etc. St. Louis is of course one of these cities receiving funds by formula. The use of the funds is to address community development, housing, economic development in a way that the local community plans. The city receives an allocation of millions of dollars a year. The amount has declined but is substantial.

The city has misused much of this funding. Instead of concentrating funding on the areas of greatest need, the funds are divided equally among the 28 wards. This of course waters down the effect and provides the aldermen a slush fund for pet projects, which may have nothing to do with broader priorities of the city. When I worked for the St.Louis Housing Authority we needed city wide targeting of block grant funds to get $28 million from HUD for the Darst-Webbe demolition and redevelopment. This commitment was tough to get. Funds have been used to over rehab houses in very poor locations, or to create non profits which accomplish little. HUD shares in the blame because they have lacked the courage to challenge the city on these policies. I intend to do some detailed reporting on this subject in the future.

Mentoring

I have volunteered as a mentor to young boys on several occasions. In all cases both the mentor and I have found it to be a positive experience 

In a previous post I have commented on the  positive outcomes at St. DLouis city Academy resulting from strong parental involvement. Mentoring can at least be a partial solution to help kids not fortunate enough to have parents or other family members available.  This also applies to prevention if criminal behavior 

I am calling for mentoring programs for all at risk children and families. Much if this can be accomplished by extensive volunteer efforts. Organizations such as Big Brothers/Big Sisters already Dinan outstanding job. Funding will also be necessary. It will be funding very well spent 

Mortgage Interest Deduction

The mortgage interest deduction on federal income tax is by far the biggest housing subsidy available. It far surpasses Section 8, LIHTC, or other forms of subsidy. The major problem with this subsidy is because it primarily benefits higher income households. That is because a tax deduction only benefits households who itemize and those with a more substantial tax burden. Most of the benefit of this deduction goes to households earning over $200,000 a year. This program hurts central cities more than suburbs for the following reasons:

1. As stated before, less expensive houses provide less of a deduction to affluent purchasers. The present system actually provides incentives for middle and upper middle income households to buy more expensive homes which are generally located in suburbs.

2. Renters who are more common in the central city receive not subsidy at all.

The National Low Income Housing Coalition has a United for Homes campaign which attempts to rectify the housing tax deduction issue. The policy they advocated would limit deductions to $500000 of interest, and provide a 15% tax credit to households which would much more adequately address the needs of lower income homeowners. The billions in cost savings would be used to subsidize new affordable housing. Check out the website Unitedforhomes.org

Jerry Schlicter

This is the second in my series about local good guys. Jerry is a personal injury attorney who has been quite successful. He is now going after employer based 401-k accounts for overly high administrative fees and too low rates of return

Jerry has accomplished two major things for the city of St Louis and State of Missouri. First he took the lead in getting the State historic Tax Credit program approved. This program has resulted in the preservation of thousands of historical buildings and the generation of the investment of Hugh sums of money in our communities.

Second he started and chairs the St Louis Arch Grants which provide startup funds for promising new businesses. 

What impressed me the most about Jerry is that both these endeavors do not benefit him directly. He is just a civic minded citizen

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