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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”

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.

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New Police Chief in St. Louis

St. Louis has gone through a long and consulted process to find a new police chief. Who knows why it has taken so long. I read information about the remaining candidates in the Post Dispatch over the weekend. I was disappointed to see that they are all mediocre at best and some seem terrible. One gentleman received a vote of no confidence from the police officers of his home community.

I supposed it is not surprising St. Louis is facing this dilemma. Why would a top notch candidate come here to face the exceptional crap that goes down. Crime is really high but if the police get aggressive in solving crime they are criticized. A refreshing approach would be to do as Chicago did many years ago and reach out to academia for someone. Chicago hired OW Wilson who turned the department around even though the cops hated him. Maybe we should try the same thing. Written by Paul Dribin

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

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

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

St. Louis and Housing

I finished reading an article in the NYT today again about the overheated housing market in the San Francisco Bay Area with a focus on Berkley. It pointed out the resistance among single family homeowners to doing anything differently to make housing a little more affordable. I also believe that people in these markets are going to be underwater if the Republican tax bill passes and they are limited on mortgage interest deductions and cannot deduct state and local taxes.

In any case it points out to me again how so many quality neighborhoods in both St. Louis city and county contain quality housing at a good price for buyers. I would think a marketing program to young people living on the coasts may be in order. What a bargain. We also have great cultural amenities and a short commute. These are all pluses. Why aren’t we marketing them? Written by Paul Dribin

The Benefits of Good and Affordable Housing to a Community

Here is an article copied from Why Housing Matters. It is a very comprehensive statement of the importance of housing to other endeavors such as health and education. It is well worth taking a look at. The data was originally gathered by the MacArthur Foundation. Written by Paul Drib in

Why Educators, Health Professionals, and Others Focused on Economic Mobility Should Care about Housing

November 30, 2017

Cities striving to improve residents’ lives often focus on such issues as schools, parks, jobs, or health. Often overlooked is something equally fundamental. Trace the lineage of many social welfare issues, and you will likely uncover a history of substandard, unaffordable housing. Research increasingly shows that safe and affordable housing in strong and thriving neighborhoods is a launching pad to upward mobility for families.

For more than a decade, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has supported research on the role of housing as a platform for opportunity among families. The following summary of findings from more than 20 studies shows that housing shapes our lives in critical and long-lasting ways. Through this and other work, our understanding has expanded, providing greater nuance and insight into the pathways through which housing makes a difference in people’s lives and in communities. These pathways include housing stability, affordability, quality, and location.

The findings are organized for educators, health professionals, and economic development experts who regularly see the direct impact of poor-quality, unaffordable housing but who may not realize housing’s role in those outcomes.

Why educators should care about housing

Safe, stable, and affordable housing during childhood sets the stage for success in school. Children are profoundly affected by their environments during key developmental stages. Chaos in their neighborhood, frequent moves, exposure to pollutants, and unhealthy conditions leave a deep and lasting imprint. When housing consumes too much of a household’s budget, kids may not have enough nutritious food to eat to be ready to learn. Teachers see the ramifications of these conditions in the classroom.

MacArthur Foundation-supported research shows the following:

1 Adolescents living in poor-quality housing have lower math and reading scores and lower math skills in standardized achievement tests, even after adjusting for parenting and other factors.

2 Among young children in high-poverty neighborhoods, substandard housing is the strongest predictor among several housing-related conditions of behavioral or emotional problems.

3 Improving housing stability has long-term benefits for children. Any residential move during childhood is associated with a nearly half-a-year loss in school. Each additional move is associated with small declines in social skills. A majority of US children move at least once during childhood, and a sizable group moves three or more times. The negative effects, however, fade with time.

4 Moving three or more times in childhood is associated with lower earnings, fewer work hours, and less educational attainment later in life.

5 Between ages 6 and 10 is a particularly sensitive time to move. At that age, any move, voluntary or not, is linked to lower educational attainment and lower earnings later in life. (See here for results at other ages.)

6 Families who spend 30 percent of their household income on rent spend more on child enrichment than those who spend either more or less than that on rent.

7 Homelessness is linked to behavioral problems in children, though it is relatively rare and often a one-time experience.

8 Too few families can move to high-performing neighborhood schools, even with housing vouchers to help with rent. One-third of public housing families and one-fourth of families using housing vouchers live near schools that are ranked in the bottom 10th in their state.

9 The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) does better than housing vouchers in placing families near high-performing schools, though the LIHTC serves slightly better–off families.

Why health care professionals should care about housing

Both neighborhood and health disparities are stark in the United States. One’s zip code is as important as one’s genetic code in determining health status or life expectancy. The disparities are linked because where you live offers access to what makes you healthy or unhealthy, from housing without lead or asthma triggers to grocery stores with fresh vegetables, to parks and sidewalks, and access to jobs. Physicians, nurses, and public health experts recognize this, and they are doing more to ensure that the residents they serve live in homes and neighborhoods that promote their health and well-being.

MacArthur Foundation-supported research shows the following:

1 Substandard housing contributed to children’s poor health at age 6 and developmental delays by age 2. (For insights on why, see here.)

2 Housing affects mothers’ health. Poor housing conditions and overcrowding (even just perceived overcrowding) are associated with more depression and hostility among Latino mothers in the Bronx.

3 Moving to low-poverty neighborhoods can improve physical and mental health for adults, including decreased diabetes and obesity.

4 Neighborhood pollution has clear health consequences. Reducing prenatal exposure to pollutants from traffic congestion alone could mean 8,600 fewer preterm births annually, for an annual savings of at least $444 million.

5 Among Latinos living in public housing in the Bronx, the prevalence of cardiovascular disease is significantly higher than for either Section 8 voucher holders or low-income Latinos in general. Nationwide, public housing residents tend to live in poorer neighborhoods than do voucher holders.

6 Neighborhood social cohesion reduces the risk of depression or hostility among low-income Latinos in New York City.

7 About 10 percent of low-income children in a nationally representative survey of urban families were homeless at one point in their childhoods. These children relied more on emergency rooms for health care and had more behavioral problems.

8 Housing for homeless families and rental assistance for food-insecure families improves health outcomes of vulnerable children and lowers health care spending.

Why people focused on ensuring greater economic security and mobility should care about housing

Housing is a launching pad to successful lives. High-quality housing in strong neighborhoods positions residents to capitalize on opportunities. And investing in communities reaps benefits beyond the neighborhood in lower social, health, and economic costs for the city and region. Cities nationwide are working to reverse entrenched poverty and providing needed opportunities for all residents. The findings below demonstrate the connection between housing, neighborhood, and upward mobility.

MacArthur Foundation-supported research shows the following:

1 Improving neighborhood social cohesion and access to jobs and reducing environmental hazards have a strong effect on health, earnings, and well-being.

2 Housing affordability and stability encourage work. Families using housing vouchers were working more consistently after five years than similar low-income families without vouchers.

3 Policies that focus on moving families to better neighborhoods are not enough to address every problem related to poverty. Families need additional supports to overcome their circumstances.

4 Siblings who lived in public housing as teenagers fared better than their siblings who spent less time in public housing. They earned more as young adults and were less likely to be incarcerated. More room in family budgets to invest in children may be one reason for the better results.

5 Improving housing stability for children has long-term benefits. Moving three or more times in childhood—especially between ages 6 and 10—lowered later earnings nearly 52 percent.

6 In Milwaukee, Wisconsin, 16 households are evicted every day. Poor, black women are especially vulnerable. Evictions disrupt children’s schooling and perpetuate economic disadvantage.

7 Racial segregation and a tight rental market constrain housing choice for low-income families and may be one reason voucher holders live near lower-performing schools.

8 Inclusionary zoning policies expand access to more economically diverse neighborhoods and better-performing schools, though inclusionary zoning is only a small slice of the affordable housing pie.

9 For low-income seniors, reverse mortgages can be a lifeline. The most effective strategy to reduce default rates is escrowing funds for property tax and insurance payments for borrowers with low FICO credit scores.

These findings underscore the need to invest in healthy, affordable housing for all Americans. Opportunities are shaped by a person’s housing, neighborhood, and environment. Policies that address housing and neighborhood’s role in creating and sustaining opportunities or disadvantage may be one of the most effective ways to fight poverty and promote upward economic mobility.

This article was originally published on the MacArthur Foundation’s website, and has been reproduced in a modestly modified form with permission from the Foundation.

Great Groups in St. Louis

This blog tends to focus on the problems going on in St. Louis. Today I want to write about organizations doing really positive work to improve the community and the lives of people. Here are the groups:

1. Beyond Housing- This organization led by a brilliant and dynamic President, Chris Krehmeyer is doing amazing work. They are most active in the area around the Normandy School District doing total community development though the 24:1 program. Efforts include housing, a movie theatre, health facilities, a bank, matching funds for college and many other program. This organization goes about community development the right way.

2.Better Family Life-This organization located in north St. Louis is focused on housing, financial literacy, credit building, and housing counseling. They are the only community based organization I know that is attempting to resolve the violence on the streets of North St. Louis.

3. DeSales Housing Development Corporation- This organization has been successful for years in developing and rehabilitating housing in the Benton Park area and providing a wholistic approach to community development.

4. Rise- This non profit has worked for years to build and rehabilitate affordable housing throughout St. Louis and to provide support and technical assistance to non profits.

5. Justine Petersen Housing Corporation- This organization provides micro loans to small businesses, credit counseling, and provides sources of financing and saving to people who do not have a regular relationship with a bank or poor credit.

6. St. Louis City Acadamy- This private school provides a world class education to mostly low income African American students in the City of St. Louis. All the students receive scholarships.

7. Hawthorn Leadership School for Girls- This charter school led by Mary Stillman provides STEM education to girls regardless of economic background. They have now begun their high school program.

8, Boys Hope/Girls Hope- BHGH provides a 24 hour living environment and education to academically strong students from a difficult background who would benefit from a change in living conditions. The scholars are provided with 24:7 support, attend regular high schools, and most of them go to and succeed in college.

I am sure there are other worthy organizations but these are the ones for which I am familiar. Written by Paul Dribin

The Beneficial Effects of Low Income Housing Tax Credits

I read some “scholarly” research today on the effect of Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) on neighborhood stability. Some earlier research had suggested that LIHTC projects had a negative effect on low income communities. This study showed a very slight positive effect. This to me is faint praise. Affordable housing has been billed as transformative. Lives are clearly not being transformed by these programs, at best they are somewhat stabilized. Maybe that is all they can accomplish. They should not however be oversold. 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

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