City officials are bullish about a comprehensive data analysis aimed at providing guidance to steer money more strategically for housing and community development programs.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently released a "market value analysis" of the city of St. Louis. It’s a snapshot that provides detailed information about foreclosures, housing prices, construction permits and commercial development around the city.
James Heard, HUD’s regional director, said the analysis is one tool that could help stakeholders in steering federal and local development funds. He also said it will be helpful toward drawing up a five-year plan for HUD’s community development block grants, which primarily fund housing and community development programs.
Heard said that the data could hypothetically provide insight into whether certain parts of the city need grocery stores or banking institutions.
“[There’s] all kinds of ways you can use the data,” Heard said. “The data is just a tool. You have to drill it down to the specific area and begin to talk with people in the community.”
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said last week that the analysis could help direct federal housing and community development funds. That’s especially important, he said, since the city isn’t getting as much federal money as it has in the past.
“It’s going to be a part of the considerations that we make,” Slay said. “We make sure that the dollars, the limited dollars that we have, are used in the most effective way. And get the biggest bang.”
Board of Aldermen President Lewis Reed wrote in a blog post that the analysis could “create a streamlined process for investment, but be flexible enough to understand the social and cultural conditions behind the data.”
“We agree that building 12 new homes on a block where, at the same time, 20 homes went vacant isn’t the best way to spend housing dollars,” Reed wrote in his post. “Federal investments should be met, in some way, by the private market. But we also know that block grant dollars must be invested in communities that need them most, on programs that have proven track records, overseen by organizations that both CDA and the community trust.”
The analysis comes months after HUD cajoled the city of St. Louis to alter how it split up community development block grants. Aldermen used to be key decision makers in how to divide the funds. Last year the city changed the process for the grants and now, the funds are primarily divided through an application-based process run through the Community Development Administration.
That power shift from the Board of Aldermen to the mayoral-controlled Community Development Administration wasn’t universally popular. But, Heard said, the HUD analysis may contribute to making that transition smoother.
“Everybody here is excited about this process and this change,” Heard said. “No longer are we looking at decisions being made based upon just pure political feelings. We’re looking at data to drive decision-making and strategizing and leveraging those resources.”
One example of the “excitement?” Heard said that more than 100 people showed up in late January for a presentation of the study’s findings. While he said reaction to the analysis has been positive, he emphasized that “change is difficult.”
“This is a paradigm shift,” Heard said. “You go back and read the book 'Who Moved My Cheese.' Sometimes, we can sit around and think things are going to get better. But the resources are getting scarcer and scarcer. So, we have to do something. Washington, D.C. is not passing out more dollars. Things are getting tighter and tighter. So, we have to leverage every bit of the dollars that are coming into these communities.”
“And I think people are getting it, they’re getting the message,” he added.
You can look at the PowerPoint presentation of the analysis here: