City Should Meet Legal Requirement to Fund Affordable Housing

By Dr. Molly Metzger

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Dr. Molly Metzger is an assistant professor at the Brown School at Washington University and a board member at the Metro St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council. She received her B.A. in Women’s Studies from Carleton College in 2001 and her Ph.D. in Human Development and Social Policy from Northwestern University in 2012. Prior to her doctoral training, she worked in low-income housing in Chicago as a social services coordinator. As a researcher, her current work focuses on housing policy in the United States. Specifically, she seeks to understand how housing policies create and reproduce segregation and inequality, such that these programs might be improved. Dr. Metzger’s major projects have included a community action project on public housing preservation in Chicago, a national analysis of the Section 8 housing voucher program, and most recently a collaboration with the St. Louis Housing Authority, in which she interviewed Section 8 renters in North St. Louis City and County about their housing options and preferences. Her research also extends into other areas of social welfare, including early childhood health and education.

Many St. Louisans are struggling to keep a roof over their heads. Among households earning less than $35,000 annually, one out of five are spending more than 30% of their earnings on their housing, making them “housing cost burdened.” We have a need for more quality affordable housing. The City of St. Louis’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF) is intended to help address that need.

For at least the last four years, the City of St. Louis has funded the AHTF at $500,000 below the legally mandated minimum. This year is shaping up to be no different. If the City sticks with its preliminary budget decision, City residents and neighborhoods will miss out on a half million dollars in housing investment. How did we get to the point where the City has underfunded our commitment to affordable housing by around $2 million over the past four years?

In 2001, the City passed a Use Tax of which 50% was to be “dedicated to providing for the development and preservation of affordable and accessible housing.” After revenue generated by the Use Tax beat expectations, the City passed a new ordinance in 2002 establishing minimum allocations of $5 million to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, $5 million to the Health Care Trust Fund, and $3 million to the Use Tax Demolition Fund. Under the new ordinance, the only way the City of St. Louis could fund the AHTF below $5 million is if the Use Tax raised less than $10 million. With the Use Tax raising $30.15 million on average over the past 4 years, the city has no good reason to underfund affordable housing.

A great gap exists between where we are today and where we would be if the original 2001 law had been implemented. If the 2001 ordinance was in place today, roughly $15 million would be invested in affordable housing in the City of St. Louis this year. If the City of St. Louis simply made up for the lost investment over the past four years under the 2002 law, roughly $7 million would be invested this year.

Alas, if the City of St. Louis simply followed its own legal requirements this year, $5 million dollars would be invested in bringing quality affordable housing in our communities, for our neighbors. Unfortunately, the City of St. Louis is yet again planning to fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund below its legally mandated minimum despite calls from the Ferguson Commission and housing advocates to increase investment.

If you believe in providing quality affordable housing for all St. Louisans; if you believe in reinvesting in our buildings; if you have witnessed a child performing better in school because her family’s new affordable home allowed them not to move every month, call your alderperson, call the mayor’s office, and tell a friend that the City should allocate at least $5 million to affordable housing this year.

Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.