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The St Louis Contrarian

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

Archive for the tag “st. louis”

Hockey Public Funding

A fascinating fight is brewing in St Louis over public funding of the repairs to the Scottrade Center where the hockey Blues play. The Board of Aldermen passed an ordinance authorizing payment for the repairs in the form of 30 year bonds. A group led by Alderman Cara Spencer has filed suit and challenged the legality of the action because it violates terms of the Missouri Constitution. In addition to Ms. Spencer, another plaintiff is Jeanette Mott Oxford, former state representative, and Executive Director of Empower Missouri, a non profit advocacy agency for poor people. Ms. Oxford is a friend and colleague of mine and I can tell you she is very smart, determined, and fearless.

A major item of discussion concerns who owns the building. The popular perception is that the city owns it which is apparently not true. The city owns the land under it, and the Blues own the building.

Once again this is a matter of a cash starved city funding a sports venue for rich private parties. Furthermore most of the attendees at Blues game live outside the city. Ms. Spencer has recommended a regional sports authority that receives funding from the county as well as the city,

I love hockey and think Tom Stillman the owner of the Blues is a good guy. I also agree with Ms. Spencer and Oxford that public funds should not be used for this purpose. Written by Paul Dribin

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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.

Boston
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

St. Louis Glitz-Build it and They Will Come

Here is a major beef I have with how things get done in St. Louis in the 21 years my family and I have lived here.

Instead of investing in neighborhoods, education, crime prevention, etc. St Louisians invest in glitzy and trendy project that may work elsewhere but are unsuitable for our community. Some examples include, Union Station, City Center, adding a runway at Lambert, football and soccer stadiums, a downtown convention hotel, metro link, and a trolley. There is a place for all of these things in some communities, but glitz put on top of a crime ridden city with crumbling infrastructure will not work. The problem is compounded by a build it and they will come attitude, meaning that data does not support the endeavor but it will be so cool that people from somewhere will come and use it after it is completed. (I;E THE LOOP trolley)

Written by Paul Dribin

St. Louis Named as Best City for Milliennials

His is good news and in my mind quite accurate. The housing is affordable, jobs for educated people are here, it is easy to get around, great cultural attractions, great restaurants. A lot to do. Tim Dribin needs to hear this. Written by Paul Dribin

Loop Trolley Folly

Once again some more stuff. Joe Edwards, the head of this fiasco has informed the community the trolley needs another $500000 from St. Louis County. This is in addition to the $53000000 or so that has already been spent on a project over budget and behind schedule. Worse, the US Department of Transportation has stated that if the project does not get off the ground pretty soon, St. Louis will lose future transportation funding. Need I say more. Written by Paul Dribin

Homeless Prevention

An article in How Housing Matters makes an important point about homelessness in cities such as St. Louis. That article demonstrates the most successful approach to combating homelessness is a housing first model. This approach requires building affordable supportive housing for homeless people, housing them, and providing supportive services at the same time.

An interesting point about the St. Louis homeless situation. Biddle House run by St. Patrick’s Center serves anyone who wants it 3 meals a day, 7 days a week. When the Larry Rice shelter closed, people at Biddle prepared for more clients. They never came. We suspect Larry never had as many clients as he claimed. Written by Paul Dribin

Here is the copy of the article from How Housing Matters:

What Cities Can Do to Combat Homelessness

August 03, 2017

by Steven Brown

The most recent Annual Homeless Assessment Report to Congress points out the number of people experiencing homelessness has fallen every year since 2010, representing a 13.7 percent drop between 2010 and 2016. Homelessness fell even more dramatically among certain subpopulations over the same period. Chronic homelessness fell 27 percent, veterans homelessness was cut by nearly half and was eliminated in dozens of places across the country, and homelessness among families with children decreased 23 percent.

Though the number of people experiencing homelessness has declined nationally, many large cities have experienced increases in their homeless populations. Since 2010, homelessness increased slightly more than 1 percent. In many of these cities, the number of people in shelters has decreased while the number of people on the street has gone up dramatically. In Los Angeles, the number of people experiencing homelessness went up more than 33 percent in the past two years and increased more than 42 percent for people outside of shelter. In New York City, homelessness spiked 39 percent in the past year. Chicago, Denver, Seattle, and several other large cities saw similar increases.

Despite the trends, many cities—including Atlanta, Cleveland, and New Orleans—experienced significant declines in homelessness. What are these cities doing well? Houston is a prime example. After a peak in homelessness in 2011, Houston adopted a Housing First model for addressing homelessness. Officials and homelessness providers in the areas developed the Houston/Harris County Continuum of Care in 2012 and worked with local agencies to create The Way Home, an action plan with goals to address area homelessness. The goals of The Way Home are to

create a system to identify the chronically homeless and match them to appropriate affordable housing,
coordinate a service system to support long-term housing stability, and
create enough permanent housing to meet the demand.
Before The Way Home, area service providers and nonprofits were an uncoordinated “tangle of services,” but the city worked to coordinate local efforts, including adopting the Homeless Management Information System to match people to appropriate, stable housing within 30 days of system entry and assessment. The city redirected over $100 million in federal, state, and local funding, with help from local businesses, to build and maintain over 2,500 additional permanent supportive housing units with wraparound services. Since the introduction of The Way Home, homelessness in Houston, Harris, and Fort Bend counties has fallen 60 percent, and their Continuum of Care was recently recognized as one of 50 in the country that has effectively ended veterans homelessness.

The gains Houston has made toward ending homelessness through a Housing First approach and coordinated entry are laudable and impressive. Other cities have tried or are trying similar approaches, yet still struggle with a steady or growing homeless population.

One additional reason the gains may have been more effective in Houston is their more accessible housing market. According to US Department of Housing and Urban Development data, the fair market rent for a one-bedroom rental in Harris County stayed flat between 2011 ($767 a month) and 2016 ($773), and the most recent Census Bureau data for the county show an 8.9 percent vacancy in rental housing. Atlanta, Cleveland, and New Orleans have also used a Housing First approach and seen their homeless populations fall, and so have other cities with comparably lower rents and slower rental growth.

Compare this with Seattle and King County, which saw a 25 percent increase in fair market rent for one-bedroom rentals (2011: $977, 2016: $1,225) and has a rental vacancy rate of 3.4 percent. Decreasing housing affordability in an area can make it more difficult for people on the margins to stay in their homes and can prevent people in shelters or permanent supportive housing from jumping into private market housing.

But cities, including many coastal ones, with rising rents and rising populations experiencing homelessness can still fight the rising tide. Boston has experienced recent spikes in homelessness, but is in a state that has a right-to-shelter law. Even though the number of people and the length of stay in emergency shelters is increasing, the number of people “on the street” is among the lowest in the country, and the area is seeing declines in people returning to shelter. Though emergency shelter can have challenges (e.g., turnover, privacy, safety), shelters have the advantage of staff who can help coordinate services and transitions to more stable housing. Boston’s challenge, and the challenge of other cities in a similar position, is to build a better bridge between shelter and self-supported housing.

While homelessness is down in much of the country, many cities still struggle. Cities that have brought down their populations have done so through a Housing First approach, a tight coordination between public, nonprofit, and private stakeholders, and a clear path for permanent and stable housing. Houston’s Housing First, integrated Homeless Management Information System model, and close coordination between agencies have led to an end of veterans homelessness and a nearly 50 percent reduction in homelessness overall. Although rents haven’t risen there as quickly, the approach shows that getting people into permanent supportive housing may be the best solution. The Family Options Study showed that of transitional housing, rapid re-housing, and vouchers, vouchers proved the best option for helping homeless families achieve residential stability, and other studies have shown that rapid re-housing can work in certain contexts.

The best way for cities to help their homeless populations is to house them and support them with services to help them find stable employment, health care, and child care services. Though this may be challenging for cities with limited affordable units and rising rents, these are the steps that must be taken to support these most vulnerable of populations.

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Student Mentoring

Much of course has been written about poverty, racism, etc. Nothing has worked very well in addressing these problems. Let me propose a very simple idea, mentoring of students.

I have been a mentor at various times in my life and found it a great experience. More important, the young person being mentored and their families seemed to appreciate it.

I am proposing a mentoring program that would address the needs of all the at risk students in the St. Louis metro area. Volunteers need to be sought and programs established. The cost if huge but on a per student basis, quite inexpensive. Furthermore data shows it works.

I am working on starting a program at one school. Anyone else interested?

Metrolink Policing in the St. Louis Area

The Post Dispatch led by Tony Messenger has written a number of articles which focus on the problems of adequate policing on Metrolink. The gist of the story is that police officer assigned to patrol trains and platform were sitting in an office, texting, sleeping, etc. This is of course terrible.

What is worse however is the lack of cooperation shown by the county to Metrolink, Bi-State, the parent company, and to other units of policing. They came up with a silly ruling that the Metrolink police personnel could not collect fines because they were not official police. Consequently fines are not collected and thugs are having their way on the trains.

This lack of cooperation is the more major problem and again points to the fundamental problem in the St. Louis area; the proliferation and lack of cooperation of the various units of government. Let’s hope this can be a teaching moment for moving things forward. 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

What Will Get Young People to St. Louis

I read an article last week touting Pittsburgh as the next great place to live. What would earn St. Louis that status?

Despite all my griping about St. Louis I know it is a great place to live. What are the key positive attributes?

1. A lot to do. Great cultural, sports, and dining opportunities. We are more in a league with Chicago rather than Omaha when it comes to cultural activities.

2. Affordable housing. The median housing price is much less than in most big cities. Young couple could get more for their dollar and save hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of a lifetime.

3. Easy to get around- This speaks for itself. You will not need to commute for hours to get to work or school.

4. Top institutions of higher education

Negatives

1. Crime

2. Racial intolerance- Businesses want an open and accepting work and cultural climate for their employees. St. Louis has a long way to go to achieve this goal.

3. A proliferation of small governments-Our system of governance is too expensive, inefficient, and fosters exclusion.

4. Climate-The weather is horrible in the summer and still cold in the winter. Spring and fall are great.

Almost everyone who visits St. Louis likes it. We should develop a program to bring recent college graduates or college senior to town for a weekend to sell them on settling here. We have a lot to offer, and most of the country is unaware of us. Written by Paul Dribin

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