The St. Louis County Council voted Tuesday to establish a fund aimed at creating more affordable housing.
While the initial amount of money in the trust fund is small, the sponsor of the legislation believes the vote marks a big policy shift in the state’s largest county.
During the council’s final meeting of 2019, council members voted 4-3 for Lisa Clancy’s bill establishing the trust fund. It would empower the St. Louis County Housing Resources Commission to give money to developers, programs and local governments that are seeking to expand affordable housing.
“It would go towards eligible recipients that could be nonprofits, that could be developers, that could be other governmental agencies that are working to alleviate some of the cost burdens associated with housing,” said Clancy, D-Maplewood. “And that could include things like building new housing or improving housing that already exists. It could be home repair. It could be lots of different things.”
The bill also increases the amount of members and specifies criteria for who serves on the housing commission. That commission currently provides funds to help alleviate homelessness.
For instance, two appointees from the county executive would have to come from the “most highly distressed areas of the county” in terms of poverty, crime, unemployment and homeless rates.
Three members would have a background in “legal services, fair housing, homeless services, disabled services, lending, or other services related to affordable housing or community development.”
“We're going to have subject matter experts related to things like housing and real estate law joined with folks who've got lived experiencewith what it's like to be in situations where you're experiencing limited access to affordable and quality housing,” Clancy said.
At first, the trust fund will get some money from a sales tax on medical marijuana — which Clancy estimates will be about $50,000 a year. But she added there will likely be further discussions about how to bring a more robust revenue stream into the fund.
“What we've carved out so far with this medical marijuana sales tax revenue is a baby step,” Clancy said. “We're going to need to do some hard work in the near future, and in the long term, to make sure that this fund has more funding.”
St. Louis has had an Affordable Housing Trust Fund for roughly 20 years. And much of the money for that comes from the city’s use tax on out of state purchases. The county’s Affordable Housing Task Force pointed out that a 0.125% sales tax increase and the imposition of a use tax would raise about $30 million a year for the trust fund.
Clancy’s bill passed 4-3 Tuesday after a series of negotiations and changes to the legislation. A number of supporters of the measure called for its implementation over the past few months at the council’smeetings.
“I have represented tenants in thousands of different eviction proceedings, with the goal of preventing that eviction or if it’s inevitable due to lack of funds,” said Susan Alverson, an attorney with Legal Services of Eastern Missouri. “It has seemed to me over the 30 years that I have been doing this that things have not been getting better. I am, however, grateful that finally we seem to be recognizing the need for housing, an affordable, habitable housing.”
All three of the council’s Republicans, Tim Fitch, Ernie Trakas and Mark Harder, voted against Clancy’s legislation.
Fitch said he couldn’t support the final bill because he contends it will lead to tax increases.
“When I think of taking tax money from people, I think of my 84-year-old father,” said Fitch. “So are we going to say that he should have less of his own money to spend so that money can go into a pot for government to then spend for affordable housing? I don't think that's the right thing to do.”
Chris Krehmeyer, president and CEO of the nonprofit Beyond Housing, said creating more affordable housing can help stabilize communities throughout St. Louis County.
“By giving families an opportunity to have a decent, safe place to come home to every night, to have children have a place where they feel safe and they feel confident, and they have their parents nurturing them — good things happen,” said Krehmeyer, whose organization has helped create affordable housing units throughout the Normandy School District.
The bill now goes to Page, who is expected to sign the measure.
“This is a good step toward increasing the availability of safe and affordable housing in St. Louis County,” Page said. “Making housing more accessible to our vulnerable residents is the right thing to do.”
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