Rev. Darryl Gray

For most of us the word “home” conjures images of safety and security. But for thousands in St. Louis who find themselves out of work because of COVID-19, the safety nets that have kept them sheltered are starting to unravel.

Currently the St. Louis Sheriff’s Office has a backlog of 150 evictions that were put on hold because of the pandemic. But as unemployment benefits begin to run out and with Republicans in Washington unwilling to get behind another round of stimulus, that number could swell into the thousands.

The City of St. Louis is trying to apply $5.4 million from the CARES Act to go towards rent. Many individual landlords, to their credit, do work with their tenants, but far less so the large, mostly out-of-state, corporations that own tens of thousands of rental properties. Eventually the federal money will run out and thousand more could face the very real prospect of being homeless in a pandemic.

We need a massive Marshal Plan-like approach to curing the epidemic of homelessness. Missouri could show the nation by being a model of a holistic approach, bringing the resources to restore blocks of neglected, boarded-up buildings and making them livable again. Turning renters into homeowners – with no down payments and long repayment terms at 0% interest and at less than what they are paying in rent – makes more sense long-term than subsidizing landlords. It would also put people to work getting these city-owned properties back on the tax rolls.

The threat of homelessness doesn’t only extend to those renting a home or apartment. Part of the American Dream was that if you worked hard your whole life you could look forward to some security in retirement. Instead, too many seniors find this a time of great insecurity. They are faced with serious issues regarding how to make ends meet.

The only option for them was to keep on working, earning just enough to get by even with Social Security. These seniors keep working as long as they can, but eventually – through illness, injury, disability, or this pandemic – find they can no longer provide for themselves.

In a disturbing report by HUD, “The Annual Homeless Assessment Report,” the percentage of seniors in sheltered homeless situations doubled between 2007 to 2017 to 8%. This number is also expected to triple over the next decade.

We need to do more to help seniors remain in their own homes. One step government can take is to freeze property tax assessments for those over age 65. For those trying to live on a fixed income or struggling to make ends meet even if still working, higher property tax bills are literally taxing people out of house and home.

To provide relief, if elected I will introduce a Senior Home Security Act to freeze property tax assessments for this vulnerable segment of our society. This is legislation that would benefit both urban and rural Missourians.

The best time to address homelessness is before someone loses their home.

Darryl Gray is a Democratic candidate for state representative in the 77th District on the August 4 ballot.

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