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The St Louis Contrarian

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

Archive for the category “poverty”

Hope vi

Hope VI is a now discontinued public housing program that completely rehabilitated distressed public housing projects in this country.   The idea behind the program was to combine physical rehabilitation social services and create mixed income communities. I had the opportunity to work on the Darst Webbe program in the near south side.  That program has been successful in creating a mixed income community and has led to improvements in surrounding neighborhoods. 

Recent research has evaluated HOPE VI.  The program has not really transformed lives and it was noted that displaced public housing residents did not readily move back 

I believe the program has provided urban development benefits but has not significantly improved the lives of residents. The cost is quite high and demolition and new construction may have been cheaper. The jury is still out on mixed income housing. I have serious doubts that given a choice anyone would opt for this type of housing 

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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

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.

Health Care and Housing

More attention is being paid to the relationship between housing and healthcare. There are a couple obvious connections. Someone living in unsafe housing is more likely to suffer from serious Heslth problems. We know asthma increases for children living in substandard housing.

Second, families spending a disproportionate amount of money on housing do not have funds left over for healthcare. 

Third health care reform penalizes hospitals for readmisdion if patients. Hospital Social Workers tell me that they often have trouble finding decent affordable housing for patients. This contributes to readmissions

Work is underway to better mesh housing and healthcare. We need to begin the process in St Louis

Statistics on Lack of Housing Affordability

Everyone knows there is a serious lack of affordable housing in this country. This gap contributes to homelessness, poor school performance, childhood trauma, and mental and physical health problems. The National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC) presents a report every year which documents the housing affordability problems. They compare the minimum wage income to rents and then deduce the level of housing non affordability. They compare the monthly minimum wage income to the median rent in the area and calculate that anyone paying more than 30% of their income for rent is paying too much for housing.

Like I said, I am a big affordable housing advocate and understand the lack of affordable housing. I disagree with the methodology used in this study. Many minimum wage workers are students or retirees and do not expect to live on this income. Others double up with roommates to meet housing costs. Third most minimum wage workers do not stay at that salary level for long. I believe the average tenure at minimum wage is six months. For better or worse, minimum wage was never intended to be a living wage.

A more valid comparison would be between median salary and median rent. This statistic would still tell and alarming story, but the data would be more truthful. I have the highest respect for the National Low Income Housing Coalition. They do great work.

Boys Hope/Girls Hope

This is another article in a series about individuals and groups doing great work in St. Louis.

Boys Hope- Girls Hope is a non profit that takes a boarding educational experience for inner city kids who are in at risk social situations but academically talented. The facility is housed in Richmond Heights and houses 10 male and 10 female scholars. These scholars range in grade from sixth grade to seniors in high school. They attend school at public and private schools. Many receive scholarships. The facility also provides meals, transportation, and extensive social services. Most of these students end up going to college, and about 65% graduate. Many of the alumni mentor the scholars.

In addition, Boys/Hope Girls Hope provides a non residential program which provides all the same programs except housing.

Used of CDBG Funds in St. Louis

The Community Development Block Grant is a program devised by HUD to provide flexible funds to community to meet broad based urban development needs. Cities of over 50,000 people receive the funds on a categorical basis based upon poverty etc. St. Louis is of course one of these cities receiving funds by formula. The use of the funds is to address community development, housing, economic development in a way that the local community plans. The city receives an allocation of millions of dollars a year. The amount has declined but is substantial.

The city has misused much of this funding. Instead of concentrating funding on the areas of greatest need, the funds are divided equally among the 28 wards. This of course waters down the effect and provides the aldermen a slush fund for pet projects, which may have nothing to do with broader priorities of the city. When I worked for the St.Louis Housing Authority we needed city wide targeting of block grant funds to get $28 million from HUD for the Darst-Webbe demolition and redevelopment. This commitment was tough to get. Funds have been used to over rehab houses in very poor locations, or to create non profits which accomplish little. HUD shares in the blame because they have lacked the courage to challenge the city on these policies. I intend to do some detailed reporting on this subject in the future.

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