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The St Louis Contrarian

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

Archive for the category “historic preservation”

Vacancies in St. Louis

Good news! The City of St. Louis is mobilizing efforts to deal with the vacancy situation in St. Louis which encompass 7000 vacant properties. I have worked with issue when I worked with the city and HUD. Several factors in addition to economic instability contribute to the vacancy problem. These issues I am familiar with are:

1. The aldermanic system. Many aldermen do not want vacant properties razed because of some perverted idea that it will take constituents away from their communities

2. A reluctance to demolish anything.

3. A policy by the city of letting vacant properties sit because they think there will be a demand for these properties at some time in the future.

4. Historic preservationists also do not want buildings razed. I remember when I worked at HUD being chewed out by a historic preservationists because we razed a building that was severely fire damaged.

5. The aldermanic system in St. Louis.

6. A lack of funding to deal with environmental and lead based paint issues.

I wish the people working on this project well. Written by Paul Dribin

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Indirect Costs to Housing

When we talk about the lack of affordable housing we usually ponder about the lack of enough development programs, section 8 subsidy etc. These are all valid concerns. Another major problem is the artificial constraints we put on housing.

We are well aware of these constraints but usually don’t tie them into the affordability of housing. Some of these issues are zoning which does not allow for density, large minimum lot sizes, resistance to any sort of apartments, sidewalk requirements, density, and historic preservation.

A perfect storm of these barriers is the City of St. Louis. Who is not in favor of historic preservation but in St. Louis, cost knows no boundaries. The cost of developing a Low Income Housing Tax Credit unit in St. Louis is $250000. That is absurd. How many working class people are priced out of housing due to these requirements. Virtually every neighborhood in St Louis is considered historic.

Another example is Portland Oregon. About 20 years ago they issued a no growth boundary in an effort to curb sprawl. The result? The housing market became one of the least affordable in the country. Portland is now attempting all kinds of superhuman subsidy programs to stimulate housing. Ending the no growth barrier would do far more. Written by Paul Dribin

St Louis Moves Ahead on Property Demolition

The Post contained a good but overly long article on demolition in St Louis. According to the article there are about 7000 properties in need of demolition. The city is more aggressively tackling the problem which is a major priority of Mayor Krewson.

I say congratulations. This is a step in the right direction. I have seen neighborhoods suffer for years due to the prescience of abandoned properties. The real problem again, is the political system in St. Louis in which the alderman must approve every tear down. Some have refused to approve any out of a mistaken notion that someone will return and rehab the property.

Written by Paul Dribin

Development Subsidies in St. Louis

The Post-Dispatch today headlined an article which stated that the City of St. Louis gave away through TIFs and tax abatement $30 million instead of $17 million. This article is not written to question the error but the huge amount of subsidies St. Louis provides to developers. I know the city is not by itself always a strong market, but the level of subsidies appears out of whack.

There is not enough targeting of incentives by the city. TIFs were intended to be used in economically distressed areas, not everywhere. When the use of block grant funds to write down development costs is added to the pile, the situation gets uglier. Efforts need to be made to make the development process easier and ease off of some of the onerous historic preservation rules. 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.

Development Subsidies in St. Louis

I attended a neighborhood housing board meeting in one of the neighborhoods of St. Louis recently. The group discussed a rehab job on a vacant house that will cost in the neighborhood of $250,000 to rehab and then sell for $120000. Development subsides will cover the gap.

This process makes no sense to me. I see the need for development subsidies in communities that are comprehensively redeveloping their housing stock and do not yet have housing values to break even in the process. These subsides should be limited to a reasonable percentage of the ultimate value. In the case I cited the subsidy of $13000 is more than the value of the property. This is crazy and it has been done thousands of times in St. Louis. Instead of comprehensive rehabilitation, aldermen or community activists pick out a property to rehab which has not overall effect on improving the community. Someone needs to take a good look at the whole process. Milwaukee where I previously lived and worked required that any housing with rehab costs higher than the end value be demolished. Written by Paul Dribin

Historic Tax Credits and Trump

President Trump has proposed in his tax plan to eliminate the Federal Historic Tax Credits. This would be a disaster for most cities, and most significantly, St. Louis. Federal and state credits have been effectively used in St. Louis for years to rehabilitate and develop housing that is historically significant. The dollar value has to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The value to the community is even higher. This for a tax plan that increases the deficit and simply lines the pocket of already very wealthy Americans. Second, this does not even get at the possible cuts in the State of Missouri Historic Tax Credits proposed by Governor Greitens Written by Paul Dribin

Historic Preservation in St. Louis

St. Louis has a remarkable and significant historic housing stock. Preserving this stock is very important. Yet, I often question the method or lack of method in which it is carried out. I particularly have problems with how houses that are not historic but located in historic neighborhoods are treated. These houses must meet the same stringent standards of the historic houses even if they have no historic value of their own.

A big problem with the St. Louis approach to historic preservation is the notion than all old buildings are historic. This is simply not true. Second, the federal register characterizes historic buildings as being unique, which is not usually the case in St. Louis. Third, aldermen and other political leaders have pushed to designate neighborhoods as historic in an effort to spur development. Often is has the opposite effect. Costs get driven up significantly, making a developer’s ability to do a deal more difficult without subsidies. It has also caused too many buildings to stand vacant.

We need a more sensible approach that balances preservation with economic development. Perhaps expenditures for preservation should be no more than the end use value of the property. Flexibility needs to be added to the architectural standards. New and innovative architectural styles are not allowed under the preservation system. Modern architecture would not have been allowed. Written by Paul Dribin

Blues Ice Rink Again

The federal government has refused to allow construction of an ice arena on a environmentally fragile site in Creve Coeur Park. Last week officials from the federal government were in town to hear grievances from local politicians. The lawyer for the ice arena played the oldest game in the world when facing a negative decision from the feds. He argued prejudice on the part of the federal officials based upon newspaper articles they had received. The only way to attempt to win this is to argue that the feds acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner.

Enough of this nonsense. Let’s find another site and get on with things. Written by Paul Dribin

St. Louis Museum District and the Suburbs

St. Louis has a fabulous set of museums parks and public institutions. They include the zoo, history museum, planetarium, art museum, and botanical gardens. Most of these attractions are world class and they are free. For some reason the Botanical Gardens charge admission. They are paid for from property taxes on St. Louis City and county residents.

The rub in the whole thing is that people outside the city and county pay nothing in taxes and get to visit for free. When this board was originally established, there was not much population outside the city and county, and not many visitors from around the country and world. Now there is a need for additional funding.

I would recommend that the remainder of the region either pay through taxes or pay admission fees. This is only fair.

Written by Paul Dribin

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