Nathaniel Rivers Place Apartments

The Nathaniel Rivers Place Apartments broke ground in the summer of 2017. This $7.6 million development is creating 32 new, affordable permanent supported housing units serving disabled residents and their families.

The City of St. Louis is bound by federal law to take steps towards desegregation, advocates told members of the Affordable Housing Commission at a January 6 meeting.

“As rents and land values in many parts of the city continue to climb, the needed increase in funding necessary to generate affordable housing opportunities will be costly,” said Glenn Burleigh, with the St. Louis Metropolitan Equal Housing and Opportunity Council (EHOC).

That’s why EHOC, Community Builders Network and other organizations called on the commission to request a minimum of $10 million in the upcoming budget year.

“The need is far greater, but an increase to a minimum of $10 million would show a commitment from the city towards making real progress towards the kind of funding necessary to tackle this growing problem,” Burleigh told commissioners.

Four days later, Mayor Lyda Krewson released a statement that she had increased the budget for the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, which the commission oversees, from $5.76 million to $6.6 million in 2020.

“Everything about who we are and who we become begins at home,” Krewson said. “That’s why we must ensure access to safe, affordable, and decent housing.”

The increase funding comes from the unallocated tax revenue that resulted from passing Prop 1 in 2017 – a half-cent sales tax increase for a North-South light rail extension, public safety cameras, and neighborhood development. A local-use tax automatically increases when the sales tax does, and that increase generates an additional $4 million a year. Since city voters rejected funding a new soccer stadium with this money, the $4 million was left unallocated.

Two years ago, Burleigh and advocates urged a $7-million allotment for the fund. Now they have finally gotten near that, but data shows that the need for affordable housing has grown even in the last two years, he said.  

Affordable housing has long been underfunded in St. Louis. In 2002, city voters approved a proposition to allocate the use tax revenue for affordable housing, public health, public safety, and neighborhood preservation. The Board of Aldermen established that $5 million would go towards affordable housing, $5 million to public health and $3 million for building demolition. The remaining amount could be used as the aldermen see fit.

However, since 2013, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department has received about $10 million of the use tax revenue every year, while the Affordable Housing Trust Fund was underfunded, only receiving between $4 and $4.5 million.

In total, the use tax fund for budget year 2020 is $37.7 million, and the largest portion — $11.23 million — will go to the police department, according to budget documents.

At the January 6 commission meeting, commissioners announced the grant recipients for this year. The increased funding allowed the commission to award funding to 48 community programs and six housing developments, which is double the number of housing construction proposals the commission was able to fund in 2019, Krewson said.

The housing developments include three single-family home construction projects by Habitat for Humanity and three rental housing projects. With a nearly $2 million contribution from the Trust Fund, the total cost of the six projects is valued at $25.6 million, according to Krewson’s statement. The projects will help create 19 affordable, single-family homes that will be sold to low and moderate-income families, 100 affordable rental homes, and 15 market-rate apartments, she said.

Some of the other community programs and services receiving funding include: Justine Petersen, Places for People, St. Patrick Center, Peter & Paul Community Services, Inc., Employment Connection, Rebuilding Together St. Louis, Mission: St. Louis, ArchCity Defenders, and Biddle Housing Opportunities Center.

The programs work citywide to address housing-related issues like tenants’ rights, education, and counseling, foreclosure prevention, neighborhood stabilization, rent, mortgage, and utility assistance, and critical home repairs. Some also work in conjunction with the city’s Department of Human Services to provide shelter and transitional housing and serve at-risk and/or chronically homeless veterans, individuals, and families.

“These programs build human potential and forge new opportunities for individuals and their families,” Krewson said. “Together, with funds from the Affordable Housing Commission, our partners are helping us solve affordable housing problems that cannot be solely addressed by the city or the private market.”

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UseTax Advocate

This article fails to address the real issues here. The Use tax was initially created for stable public health funding. In 2002, before any money was even received and allocated to the Health Department, the mayor claimed more funding than what was expected was coming in and they wanted to be able to spend the “excess funding” on other things so a vote to revise and allow the mayor/alderman more control over the excess funds was put out for a vote. The $5 million you say was dedicated to public health was not dedicated directly to the Health Department, but bypassed through it and dedicated to support ConnectCare Health Center. Now that funding bypasses directly to the Regional Health Commission. The majority of the funding was to go to public health, but instead the City grouped the Health Dept. in with many other city departments for “excess funds” and there was no set funding for the Health Dept. There was no need to create a set allocated amount initially for the Health department as that was the purpose of the Use Tax and where the remaining funding was supposed to go. On top of that, the City removed all of the health department’s city funding that had been allocated for years, and didn’t tell the public it was going to do this. Now Health receives what little it can get from the “excess funding” and the grant funding that it has to find and fight for yearly. Health was NEVER supposed to be part of the “excess funding”. While most other city department’s funding increased from the Use Tax, the Health Department’s funding decrease greatly. The staff of about 320 is now about 100, with a budget that has to be combined with the Dept. Of Human Services to even show in the city’s pie chart of financial allocations. Staff are underpaid with more work, and the constant high turnover rate of employees is ignored. Another large part of Health’s funding is also used for animal control sheltering, which is not even considered a public health service. The Use Tax has NOT been used how it was intended or the way the voters wanted, and the community has been in the dark for years about what is really going on. If you wonder why there are public health and safety issues, well this is one of the big reasons why. Not maintaining a Health Department with employees and leaders experienced in public health and the issues of our community will eventually lead to outbreaks, safety issues, health inequities, lives lost, and other community health issues. Look at where we are today, and how many lives will unnecessarily be lost because of this?

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