The St Louis Contrarian

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

Archive for the category “section 8 housing”

Do We Have an Affordable Housing Crisis in St. Louis?

The answer to this question is how you structure the problem. The National Low Income Housing Coalition has done the most work of any organization on this issue on a national level. They pose the problem by taking the median rental rate in the community and factoring in the minimum wage income. Not surprisingly they concluded that virtually now where in the United States is housing affordable.

There are several problems with this approach. The minimum wage is not a good indication of a community's earning capacity. Many minimum wage workers are students, part time workers, and those new to the work force. Many live with parents or double or triple up. Also most minimum wage workers don't remain at that pay level for a long time, as they move up the ladder. The minimum wage was never intended to be a living wage, rather just a starter for low skilled workers. Many minimum wage workers also work 2 or more jobs.

A better gauge of housing affordability is the relationship between the median income and the median rent. This gives us kind of an average, not perfect, but much better. Let's look at some numbers as a point of comparison:

St. Louis Metro Area

Median Income- $52243 for a family of 4 in the City of St. Louis
Median Rent -2 bedroom- $1291
Therefore the monthly median income of $4354 can afford a monthly rent of $1306 at the 30% threshold. This represents 100.01% of the median rent.

One may conclude that on the whole rent is affordable in the St Louis area for the median household.

Median Income-$67846
Median rent-2 bedroom-$3166
Therefore the monthly income of $5654 can support a monthly rent of $1696 at the 30% threshold. This represents 54% of the median rent.

The Boston market on the whole is not affordable.

This approach seems to be useful in making comparisons among communities. It also does not relieve our community of our responsibility to provide affordable housing. After all, median income is a statistic. There are thousands of people in our metro area who cannot afford the median rent and do not have access to adequate rental housing.

Written by Paul Dribin


Another Good Guy-Carl Lang

Today I am writing about a great guy and great real estate attorney, Carl Lang. I have known and worked with Carl for many years. He and his son David are very prominent in doing affordable housing, market rate housing, and Low Income Housing Tax Credit projects. He is extremely knowledgeable and has a quality I really like, he does not over lawyer. He is now Managing Partner at Rosenbloom Goldenhirsh. 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:

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 Housing Authority

Yesterday’s discussion about HOPE VI provides for a natural lead in to today’s discussion about the St. Louis Housing Authority. The authority controls thousands of conventional, section 8, and tax credit projects. Their work has been exceptional. They have been led for many years by Cheryl Lovell who quietly has created a powerhouse organization.

Back before Cheryl took over the housing authority was typically considered trouble and on HUD’s bad list. Negative stories about the authority were common in the media. The reforms started under Tom Costello and continued under Cheryl. They have completed revitalized their older projects, collect more rent, and have contracted out their property management. Written by Paul Dribin

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.

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