Housing experts say goals to build more moderate-cost housing to St. Louis County could founder without incentives. Developers are less likely to build properties for low-income renters without them because the cost of development could outweigh profits.
The 2018 For the Sake of All report, “Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide,” shows how neighborhoods a few miles apart vary in unemployment, poverty, income and life expectancy rates. It identifies how a few changes in housing policies in the region could give low-income households greater access to areas with more opportunities, such as employment. Several organizations, including ArchCity Defenders, Empower Missouri and Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council, helped produce the report.
Three methods are among the strategies highlighted in the report:
- Investing in low-income housing tax credits
- Expanding the use of Housing Choice Vouchers
- Establishing a St. Louis County Affordable Housing Trust Fund
In 2017 Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens blocked state matching funds for federal housing tax credits, a move Housing Authority of St. Louis County Executive Director Susan Rollins said hurt nonprofits and private developers.
“The low-income housing credits are under tremendous attack because it’s felt that only private developers benefit from them, but that’s not the case,” she said. “You have a lot of good not-for-profits, and I would include ourselves in the not-for-profit category, that are doing development — either rehab or new development — all over our region.”
Rollins said low-income housing tax credits are necessary to help builders produce affordable units.
Housing vouchers, commonly known as Section 8 assistance, allow low-income families afford comfortable rental housing. The St. Louis County housing authority reports there are 6,600 households using the vouchers. About 11,000 households are on a waiting list to receive them.
“And then that leaves who knows how many more who are still in need of the help,” Rollins said.
Projects to develop affordable housing receive funding from a combination of federal, state and local money. A St. Louis County spokesman said the administration is developing the basis for an affordable housing trust fund. The city of St. Louis already has such a trust fund.
Obstacles & opportunities
The For the Sake of All report also describes how some areas of the St. Louis region use exclusionary policies like zoning ordinances to prevent builders from developing multifamily units; for example, Ladue and Grantwood Village.
Though residential development is happening across the St. Louis region, much of the focus in county municipalities has been on single-family homes, condominiums and luxury apartments rather than low- or middle-income multifamily rental units.
Kirkwood is listed in the report as one of the more socio-economically inclusive communities in the county. Yet, city planner Jonathan Raiche said he realizes the priority has been high-end development.
“It’s no surprise, I know, to Kirkwood residents or probably people in the area, but the trend recently has been for tear-down and rebuilds,” Raiche said.
The average home price in Kirkwood has increased by about 30 percent in the last five years — to more than $350,000. Raiche said while there has been a focus on detached single-family homes, city officials have been discussing ways to prioritize low-income housing to bring about a more socio-economically diverse communities.
“We’ve identified that very clearly in our new Comprehensive Plan, however we don’t have a strategy or plan adopted yet of exactly how to get there,” he said.
The 2018 Kirkwood plan outlines a series of short-term, mid-term and long-term goals to tackle residential construction, preservation and infrastructure needs. In terms of affordable housing, the plan outlines two main objectives to “support the development of senior-oriented housing” and “encourage higher density residential” areas.
“We try to make developers aware of the community’s goals,” Raiche added. “When we talk about more affordable units or accessible or diverse housing, land prices are something that instantly come up and it has to be financially feasible. Then you get into larger debates of does it go into subsidy, where does the subsidy come from, what level of subsidy is appropriate.”
Ashley Lisenby is part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Ashley on Twitter @aadlisenby.