Many St. Louisans are struggling to keep a roof over their heads. Among households earning less than $35,000 annually, one out of five are spending more than 30 percent of their earnings on their housing, making them “housing cost burdened.” We have a need for more quality affordable housing. The City of St. Louis’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) is intended to help address that need.
For at least the last four years, the City of St. Louis has funded the AHTF at $500,000 below the legally mandated minimum. This year is shaping up to be no different. If the city sticks with its preliminary budget decision, city residents and neighborhoods will miss out on a half million dollars in housing investment. How did we get to the point where the City has underfunded our commitment to affordable housing by around $2 million over the past four years?
In 2001, the City passed a Use Tax of which 50 percent was to be “dedicated to providing for the development and preservation of affordable and accessible housing.” After revenue generated by the Use Tax beat expectations, the city passed a new ordinance in 2002 establishing minimum allocations of $5 million to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, $5 million to the Health Care Trust Fund, and $3 million to the Use Tax Demolition Fund. Under the new ordinance, the only way the City of St. Louis could fund the AHTF below $5 million is if the Use Tax raised less than $10 million. With the Use Tax raising $30.15 million on average over the past 4 years, there is no legal reason our city should be underfunding affordable housing.
There is a great distance between where we would be under the original 2001 law and where we are today.
If the 2001 ordinance was in place today, roughly $15 million would be invested in affordable housing in the City of St. Louis this year. If the City of St. Louis were to make up for the lost investment over the past four years, roughly $7 million would be invested this year. Alas, if the City of St. Louis simply followed its own legal requirements, $5 million dollars would be invested in bringing quality affordable housing to our communities, to our neighbors.
Unfortunately, the City of St. Louis is yet again planning to fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund below its legally mandated minimum despite calls from the Ferguson Commission and housing advocates to increase investment.
If you believe in providing quality affordable housing for all St. Louisans, if you believe in reinvesting in our buildings, if you have witnessed a child performing better in school because her family’s new affordable home allowed them not to move every month, then call your alderperson, call the mayor’s office, and tell a friend that the city should allocate at least $5 million to affordable housing this year.
Molly Metzger is an assistant professor at the Brown School and a board member at the Metro St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council.