National housing forum in St. Louis highlights public-private partnerships as solution | St. Louis Public Radio

National housing forum in St. Louis highlights public-private partnerships as solution

Jun 6, 2012

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 6, 2012 - Developing innovative public-private partnerships is one of the best ways to address the nation's persistent housing problems. Or so concluded a forum sponsored by the Bipartisan Policy Center and the Jack Kemp Foundation in St. Louis on Tuesday. The forum gathered national experts together to examine solutions to the nation's housing challenges.

"Too many Americans remain trapped in unaffordable or unsafe housing, yet with scarce federal resources and partisan gridlock in Washington any real solution may seem impossible," said former U.S. Sen. Christopher S. "Kit" Bond, R-Mo., a co-chair of BPC's housing commission.

"That is why I am so proud to showcase St. Louis' many success stories, proving that bipartisan, innovative partnerships between the public and private sectors can transform neighborhoods and revitalize our communities," he added.

As examples, Bond led a tour Monday night of Murphy Park, Renaissance Place and 6 North -- developments that provide housing as well as social services for members of the community.

"By engaging both public and private stakeholders, we were able to turn once blighted areas into vibrant thriving communities," said Richard Baron, co-founder and chairman of McCormack Baron Salazar, the developer of the three projects. "Our hope is that these types of developments act as a catalyst to stimulate other projects that together will revitalize the community."

The all-day event featured panel discussions on linking housing and services, homebuyer education and counseling, and preserving rental housing.

Along with Bond, speakers included U.S. Reps. William Lacy Clay, D-St. Louis, and Russ Carnahan, D-St. Louis; St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley, a Democrat; and James Bullard, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.

Chris Krehmeyer, president and CEO of Beyond Housing, discussed a model of public-private partnership in which 24 municipalities in north St. Louis County  work together to provide a range of comprehensive services.

The model is known as the 24:1 Initiative and aims to engage residents in identifying and improving problem areas in communities. The initiative hopes to provide residential stability by building new homes, improving housing conditions, and developing livable communities with grocery stores and other services, such early childhood development and access to employment.

"The way to alleviate the consequences of poverty among families in our communities is through a comprehensive approach -- by improving housing stock, empowering citizens to get involved, providing an array of support services, and working together to attract much-needed business development," Krehmeyer said. "It is through this holistic effort that we can begin to reverse decades of disinvestment, take back our neighborhoods, and make them safe, affordable, and desirable places to live."

Eileen Fitzgerald, chief executive officer from NeighborWorks America and Sarah Gerecke, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's senior policy director discussed the importance of housing counseling programs.

"It is clear that housing counseling programs work," Gerecke said, "by providing these necessary services to families, we can help ensure that they purchase homes they can continue to live and thrive in for years to come."

Last month, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) released two studies that found that after receiving housing counseling, 70 percent of distressed existing homeowners obtained a mortgage remedy to stay in their home and 56 percent became current on their mortgages.

Fitzgerald said lenders should offer incentives to homeowners who go through counseling while Gerecke emphasized that housing counseling benefits not only consumers, but also lenders, landlords, insurance companies and investors.

The Fed's Bullard sounded something of a caution. He said that recovery and adjustment in the housing market would be slow and there are no quick fixes. The collapse of the housing bubble, Bullard said, has left households with too much mortgage debt. In addition, some homeowners may now prefer renting.

"Many Americans continue to struggle to find affordable housing," said Michael Bodaken, president of the National Housing Trust. "Homelessness, a growing senior population, rising energy costs and the loss of affordable rental units are all challenges that we, as a nation, must confront. Our hope is that by bringing these issues to the forefront, we can begin to do just that."

Patricia Belden, manager of development from Preservation of Affordable Housing, said it is easier to get public resources if there is a common public goal.

The forum in St. Louis was the third of four regional forums. The commission hopes to create realistic and actionable policy recommendations that address the long-term challenges in the housing sector, including: rental Housing affordability, homeownership for low-income households, foreclosure response and recovery, homelessness, the growing senior population, housing discrimination, neighborhood distress and energy efficiency.

The BPC's Housing Commission has also released a study, "Housing Programs in the United States: Responding to Current and Future Challenges," which outlines responses to these challenges by the private sector and government.