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What could be more important than investing in home?
The power of “home” can’t be overstated. The home in which we live, and the community where we grow up, drive the trajectory our lives. If we recognize this to be true for ourselves, how can we not recognize it to be true for all? How can this region, our collective home, succeed if we allow pockets of it to fail?
Sub-standard low income housing and what it represents continues to be a part of the St. Louis County landscape — and when housing struggles, so do families, communities, and our region as a whole. Even though St. Louis County is the jobs base for our entire region, no significant investment has been made in affordable housing in years.
As the recent, exhaustive study titled “Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide” points out, this lack of investment has taken a significant toll on our region, particularly in North St. Louis County and parts of South County. The report was produced by ArchCity Defenders, Ascend STL, Empower Missouri, the Equal Housing and Opportunity Council of Metropolitan St. Louis (EHOC), For the Sake of All, Invest STL and Team TIF. They noted that over the course of decades, homes and apartment complexes have deteriorated and fallen into disrepair. They require expensive upkeep that homeowners and landlords are hesitant or simply unable to make.
At Beyond Housing, we deal with these issues every day within the 24:1 footprint, which comprises the 24 municipalities in the Normandy school district. We’ve seen the many challenges homeowners, tenants and landlords face in keeping the quality of the housing stock as strong and viable as possible, and the lack of available tools and resources to help.
It’s why we strongly agree with the organizations that issued the report: An Affordable Housing Trust Fund is absolutely critical to the overall health and wellness of St. Louis County and our entire region.
The City of St. Louis has had their own fund for a number of years. Considering there’s more people living in poverty in St. Louis County, a similar fund is long overdue. It’s highly doable, too. An Affordable Housing Trust Fund can easily be paid for through the reallocation of existing resources, by a small sales tax, or by placing a modest fee on every real estate closing transaction, which is the method used by St. Louis City.
It’s essential to make funds available to repair existing housing stock, as well as supporting families in need. There’s great value in understanding the fallout and negative consequences that result when families get evicted from homes. Making funds available through an Affordable Housing Trust Fund for issues such as utilities and housing expenses helps stave off the upheaval and trauma caused by eviction, and provides stability for children, schools and communities.
We also know that we can’t continue to keep the poor confined to a few small, often highly segregated areas. As the study shows, most affordable housing is located in low employment areas and isolated from public transportation. The vast majority of residents don’t own cars that would allow them to easily commute to areas of greater employment.
Racial and economic segregation has long been part of the problem here. It’s important to allow people lower on the economic ladder to move to communities that give them access to the things they need to prosper. This region will never be as strong as we’d like it to be if we refuse to allow people who look different or make less money live next door to us. And study after study has debunked the myth that creating low-income housing in more affluent areas brings down property values.
At Beyond Housing, we believe that allowing people to move to communities of opportunity as well as investing in poverty areas is a successful two-pronged approach.
We’ve invested close to $80 million over the last eight years — repairing, renovating and building homes within the 24:1 communities, as well as continuing to offer affordable rental housing in places like Webster Groves, Kirkwood, Maplewood and Richmond Heights, Missouri.
We’ve made great progress, but there’s more to do. We can’t expect to fix a problem that has been neglected for decades overnight, but we have to make an earnest start. In recent conversations with St. Louis County Executive, Steve Stenger, we’ve been discussing the idea of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund. The County Executive shares my conviction that prioritizing funds for affordable housing is paramount in our community. Together, we are looking forward to working with interested parties to make it a reality.
If we’re going to truly thrive as a region, we need to recognize that this is the home we share, and that home matters — not just for some, but for all.
I’ve been working in community development in the St. Louis area for 25 years, and I’ve been the CEO of Beyond Housing since 1993. While I’m proud of our accomplishments, I don’t claim to be an expert. At Beyond Housing, the experts we listen to are the voices of the community members we serve. I’ll be raising issues here that I believe matter to our community. I hope you’ll join the conversation. We do reserve the right not to post comments containing offensive language. To paraphrase Dr. King, we can disagree without being disagreeable.