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The St Louis Contrarian

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

Archive for the category “new housing”

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

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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.

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.

Low Income Housing Tax Credits

Low income housing tax credits are the primary source of construction and rehabilitation for affordable housing projects. The program has been around since the eighties and is an effort to get private sector involvement in the affordable housing development business. The program uses the equity generated from the sale of tax credits to create low debt on affordable housing projects, thereby supporting lower rents. (This is a vast oversimplification but sufficient for this discussion.)

The program has accomplished much but has significant limitations. It is neither efficient or effective. Let me explain.

The program is not efficient for two reasons. First it is excessively complicated, involving arcane aspects of tax law, legal issues, accounting etc. It is an extremely difficult program for a newcomer to enter. Second, and related, the administrative costs are extremely high. Too much of the money does not go directly to housing but lines the pockets of developers, consultants, syndicators, accountants, attorneys, etc.

Second, the program is relatively ineffective. It does not house the low income people who need it the most. Someone must be able to pay a decent rent to afford the program. Homeless or very low income people cannot participate.

Politically this is not the best time to address the need for a new affordable housing program but the community needs it. The National Affordable Housing Trust Fund is a start but its resources are limited for now. We need a simpler more efficient and effective affordable housing program.

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

Workforce Housing

I have done extensive work through the years on Workforce Housing, which is loosely defined as housing that is affordable for average working people. Barriers to this sort of housing are similar but a little bit more subtle than barriers to affordable housing. What I am talking about here is single family or attached units that are fairly small, 1200-1500 square feet, on a small lot.

The key barriers involve issues such as:

1. Zoning- Many times zoning laws do not allow multiple uses within a given area thereby requiring large lots and only single family homes to be constructed.

2. Land use- Again issues such as width of streets, sidewalks, and lot sizes drive up costs significantly.

3. Excessive levels of hearings and paperwork- Many times the permitting process is cumbersome and redundant. St. Charles County requires duplicate inspections by building inspectors and the fire department. All this costs money, adding to the cost of a home.

4. Historic preservation- This is largely a problem in the City of St. Louis. In that city virtually everything is considered historic. Rehab or construction of houses in these areas required intricate design and levels of approval. Costs increase significantly for historically compatible structures. Often, the house itself is not significant but is located in a historic neighborhood.

5. Resistance to manufactured housing- Factory build manufactured housing is much cheaper to construct, is safer, and more energy efficient. Many communities still do not allow for this type of housing.

6. Resistance from neighbors- People who own larger homes are resistant to communities of smaller ones. Consequently we get zoning and land use requirements that require minimum lot and house sizes, thereby driving up costs. Research shows that quality built smaller homes actually add to the value of their more expensive counterparts.

These issues can all be addressed through government and community leadership and common sense and do not require funding. Conservatives and liberals alike should be happy to address these issues. Inclusionary zoning could be one tool to address this but it has proved too politically charged to work in most communities.

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