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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”

Financing of St. Louis Zoo

The St. Louis Zoo is proposing an increased sales tax to help pay for zoo operations. Like other critics, I am opposed to this tax. Instead of a sales tax, an admission fee should be charged to all visitors who do not live in St. Louis City or County. For years city and county residents have supported the zoo and other cultural institutions with taxes. Folks from the surrounding counties pay nothing. People who live outside the city and county could avoid an admission charge by paying a membership fee. Fair is fair. Written by Paul Dribin

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Brick City Project

The Desales Housing Development Corporation is taking the lead on a project called The Brick City Project. This effort entails the development of industrial space that various start up industrial developers can use to grow their businesses and bring jobs to St. Louis. This seems like a wonderful project once again led by the talented and dedicated Tom Pickel. Congratulations. Written by Paul Dribin

Brookings Institution Reports

I reviewed two Brookings reports today that should be of major interest to the St. Louis region and all communities.

First a report was issued entitled The Inheritance of Black Poverty. The report showed that African American men are severely impoverished and often hold their families back. Their absence in family life often causes more poverty for the wife.

The second report is titled How Life Outside of a School Affects Performance in School. Once again this article shows that children who are severely impoverished, or suffer from abuse, neglect, or lack of stable housing suffer in school. Their performance is often behind grade leading eventually to dropping out.

The answer I believe to both these problems is to provide an intense mentoring program to both the parents and children of impoverished families. These programs have been shown to work, there are just not enough of them. Written by Paul Dribin

Three Articles that Tell it All

Today’s Post had three articles which when taken together summarize the problems of the St. Louis area.

1. The Madison County Illinois Sheriff blamed the crime in St. Louis on a recent murder in his county and related crimes. This represented a certain amount of hyperbole but also was true. The crime situation is way out of hand and slowing the region.

2. Joe Regan was fired as President of the Regional Chamber. I don’t know the inner workings of that organization but I regularly wonder why it receives the large amount of funding it does from governmental and private sector organizations. He received over $700,000 in salary with no results while running the organization into the ground. Couldn’t those fees be better used to provide job training for disadvantaged individuals?

3. The Post also again reported on the racial gap in student achievement this time with College Advanced Placement Exams. I don’t put a lot of faith in these exams but they are an indicator of the achievement gap.

These stories indicated the terrible crime problem in St. Louis, the terrible educational system available to most African American students, and the back scratching cronyism of major area institutions such as the Regional Chamber. Written by Paul Dribin

Community Development Subsidies in St. Louis

Community activists are outraged by TIFs , tax abatement, and other forms of development subsidies in St. Louis. There is justification for these beliefs. Another development subsidy which is more pervasive is more damaging. This takes place with the development of affordable housing where block grant funds are used to subsidize the difference between development costs and ultimate sale price of a house. Back when I worked on loan to the city I saw numerous examples of developments that cost $300,000 and sold for $100,000. Block grant funds were used to write down the development cost in the hope these properties would stimulate community development. They rarely did, but aldermen thought they would. Where is the accountability for this disaster of a policy. Worse these policies are still continuing today. Written by Paul Dribin

Residency Requirements in St. Louis

A controversy is brewing in St. Louis about whether residency requirements should stay in place for city employees. The city is talking about easing or eliminating city occupancy requirements for employees. The reason given for this line of thinking is that positions with city government have been too difficult to fill due to the residency requirement.

Community activists are opposed to eliminating the residency requirement. I believe that the community benefits from having certain types of city workers living in town. Police officers and teachers are two professions that come to mind. On the other hand, the whole question is irrelevant if you can’t fill the job. What about a compromise that does not make residency a requirement but gives preference to city residents in hiring. Written by Paul Dribin

City Reverse snobbery

For many year I have worked with so called urban pioneers who tend to be relatively affluent white people who live in marginal neighborhoods in cities by choice. I have found they tend to look down their noses on people who live in the burbs or make other choices. This is somewhat ironic because they often accuse suburbanites of the same type of snobbery they display.

We need to get past this issue. We all need each other. No one has a monopoly on truth or morality. People should not have to live in dangerous environments to prove their virtue. Troubled neighborhoods need middle class investment. Gentrification is not all bad; I don’t know of a neighborhood that has improved that has not gentrified. 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.

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

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