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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”

St. Louis Economic Development Agencies

The embattled head of the Regional Chamber, Joe Regan receives more in the way of salary and perks than any of his comparable 25 colleagues. He receives $771,879 in total compensation. This information was conveyed by the St. Louis Business Journal. This despite the fact he had many unhappy employees and our local economy shrunk. I would like such a gig.

A bigger picture is that the St. Louis region has multiple economic development agencies and it is not clear what any of them accomplish. The St. Louis Regional Partnership has increased staffing and salaries significantly since it partnered with the city. This whole issue is the next scandal waiting to happen. Written by Paul Dribin

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Ferguson

Two stories regarding Ferguson Missouri are in the news. The first is that a new Empowerment Center has opened which has promised job training and related services. The second story is that businesses along Florissant Avenue that were burned out as a result of the riots are still empty.  

There is only one conclusion. Things in Ferguson have not improved. What was a viable community has now deteriorated. Starting a job training program is a great idea. Unfortunately I have seen such efforts in inner city neighborhoods my whole life, usually without significant results. Do any of you know if people who want job training who have not been able to receive it.? The crowd who burned the stores in a Ferguson are not employable. We will not get anywhere unless we face facts.  Written by Paul Dribin

Division of Spoils in St. Louis

Sunday’s Post Dispatch posed an interesting article. The issue at hand was how funding from the proposed tax increase should be funded in the city. I need to say a little more.

The city has a population of a little over 300,000 and contains 28 geographic wards. This is the same number of wards as when the city had a population of nearly 1,000,000 people. Resources ranging from federal dollars such as Community Development Block Grants are divided evenly among the 28 wards, and for the most part the aldermen regard these funds as their personal slush funds. This has never made any sense and leads to the increased splintering of the city. It is also probably an illegal used of federal funds, which HUD has never chosen to enforce.

Now it appears that north side aldermen are pushing for a bigger share of the new proposed tax revenue due to special need. They are totally correct. Alderman can point fingers all day but the poverty of the north side has little to do with the quality of political leadership in those areas. The article pointed to disagreement about a funding formula. I believe the answer is simple; apportion the funds according to poverty indicators which are easy to find. That would make for a more efficient and equitable distribution of the funds. Written by Paul Dribin

Urban Development and Privilege

Much has been written recently about the concept of white privilege. I  find the term somewhat offensive because it makes people defensive. Nevertheless, the concept is true

There are a couple areas of middle class privilege that contribute negatively to the well being of communities.   The first is the mortgage interest deductions. This deduction primarily helps higher income people, and artificially drives up the price of housing. Working class people who do not itemize are hurt. This by the way is the biggest housing subsidy. A tax credit targeted to working class people would be more effective

A second set of privileges cover zoning and planning laws in our communities. These laws tend to zone out smaller and more affordable housing and Multifamily housing. I am not talking about housing homeless people but teachers social workers, nurses etc.    

The results of these policies are unnecessary segregation , a lack of mobility, and urban decline.  Written by paul Dribin

DeSales Community DevelopmentĀ 

Kudos to this organization. This organization led by TomPickel has been around since the mid seventies. They have accomplished major housing and redevelopment work in the Fox spark and Tower Grove East neighborhoods of St Louis. They have rehabbed houses provided property management and health services.   Written by Paul Dribin. 

Crime in St. Louis

The crime scene in St. Louis appears to be worse than ever. Shootings and assaults are reported every day and more of them are taking place in good neighborhoods. Aside from the devastation caused to people and communities, the crime has a negative impact on the economy of the area. More people are afraid to go out, and potential visitors are more likely not to come.

The activism surrounding police violence is absolutely on target. Readers must remember that the biggest cause of deaths among African American young men is violence from other African American men. Also police officers I have talked with, both white and black say they are not willing to aggressively go after crime due to the criticism they might receive.

In the end, there are simply too many people acting badly. Many of these folks are not trainable or employable. Mentoring efforts need to take place with at risk families from the time children are born to try to develop parenting techniques that minimize this type of behavior.

Possible Effects of Tax Reform in Missouri on Affordable Housing and Community Development

Governor Greitens has tasked a committee with looking at Missouri’s tax structure and making recommendations for change. Of particular interest to the committee and the state tax credit incentives. Here is a quick summary of recommendations as they effect housing related tax credits:

1. Low Income Housing Tax Credits- Missouri has a state affordable housing tax credits that supplements the federal credits. The credits once allocated can be used for 10 years and can be used for acquisition and new construction, or acquisition and rehabilitation. The committee recommended 1) A restructuring of the credit as a soft loan. These loans could be repaid, extended, or forgiven. 2)A $50 million annual cap which would cut funding by over 50%. 3)Creation of a tax credit clearing house to buy up existing credits. 4)The funding would be subject to annual appropriations.

Comment. Obviously utilizing a lower cap would limit the number of deals that can be supported. In addition,because the annual appropriations process is so crazy in Missouri, there would be no predictability about funding. Investors would either choose not to participate or significantly increase their fees.

2. Historic Preservation Tax Credits-These credits provide incentives to developers to maintain and rehabilitate historic buildings and neighborhoods. The recommendations are: 1)Combining the Historic Preservation Credits with the Brownfield credits. 2)The combined program would have a $50 million cap. Presently the Cap for the two programs is $150 million. 3)The funding would be subject to annual appropriations.

Comment-Once again the annual appropriations process provides for a high level of uncertainty. Lowering the Cap would also limit the number of deals.

Final Comment- These programs are critical to redevelopment and housing, particularly in St Louis. They have provided huge amounts of economic development to cities and built large numbers of affordable housing units. The trouble is they are very expensive. The development community needs to come up with alternative methods for doing community development that does not break the bank.

St. Louis North Side Development

The plans for St. Louis North Side Development have been ongoing for some time. Paul McGee is the developer behind the project that has created its’ share of controversy. Mr. McGee has purchased a number of properties on the north side in support of this project. Some of these properties have not been well maintained. Other concerns have surfaced about the lack of citizen participation in the process etc.

The Post-Dispatch today published a story that indicated more tax credits have been granted. It seems this project is taking forever to actually get off the ground. What complicates things more is that the federal Geospatial Project is an important part of the Northside Redevelopment project. This Geospatial Project is extremely important to St Louis, generating jobs and neighborhood development.

I am a fan of Paul McGee, because I have spent time with him and shared his vision. He is interested in transformation for communities and could certainly have spent his money on easier projects. It would be nice to see something actually happen on the northside. Written by Paul Dribin

Segregation in Affordable Housing

The New York Times recently ran an article which was very thoroughly documented and described how Low Income Housing Tax Credit projects almost always were located in a racially segregated and economically depressed area. The city described was Houston but the facts could apply to almost any United States location. Projects located in depressed census tracts provide much worse outcomes for the residents than those that are not.(Although the sample size of projects located in higher income areas is very small). Here is a link to the article: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/02/us/federal-housing-assistance-urban-racial-divides.html?smprod=nytcore-iphone&smid=nytcore-iphone-share

Certainly in some situations building LIHTC projects in economically deprived areas might make sense if part of a major redevelopment project. Most often, the projects are located in those areas because of NIMBYISM or developer decision making.

I am not confident these situations can ever be changed. Higher income neighborhoods will almost never support the construction of low income project in their midst.

A solution to the problem would be something I frequently recommend; an income approach to poverty which provides everyone with a guaranteed minimum income which would be used to support housing as well as other critical programs. New housing would be constructed in response to the demand created by this source of income. FHA would beef up its’ mortgage development program providing a strong vehicle for the construction of new housing. Developers using this program would need to set aside 10% of their units for affordable tenants. Direct construction subsidies would still be available for special needs housing.

We need to overcome the inertia in housing policy caused by the greed of developers of the status quo.

St. Louis as a Place to Live

I have a very good perspective on St Louis having grown up in Chicago and living here for 21 years.  In spite of itself, St Louis is a great place to live.   The culture and restaurants are first class. It is a great sports town and housing is quite affordable. You can get anywhere fairly quickly.  

Why have things not taken off here. There are several reasons 

1.  Racism.  Most of the other problems, crime, education, jobs, and dysfunctional government come from or racist traditions 

2.  Crime.  People around the country hear about crime in St. Louis and don’t want to move here.

3.  Education.  Many school systems are still a mess 

4. Cronyism. By cronyism I mean the strong tendency of people from St. Louis to pick there high school friends for key jobs and not consider outsiders. 

5. Dysfunctional government. This speaks for itself and is related to the other problems. 

We know what it takes to correct these issues. We have had lots of studies. Do we have the leadership and political will to make the changes?   Written. By Paul Dribin 

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