By Stacy Jurado-Miller, Chief Mission Officer/Developer and Co-Founder at the Vecino Group
This column was originally published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
On Nov. 17, Gov. Eric Greitens and six out of eight members of the Missouri Housing Development Commission moved to eliminate state low-income housing tax credits. They did it outside of the legislative process. They did it with unconfirmed commissioners. They did it after almost an entire year of inaction regarding the creation of new affordable housing.
As a company, the Vecino Group debated how to react. We knew that speaking out against the actions of the governor and commissioners could be career suicide. One of the problems with Missouri is that these tax credits are awarded without a point system. The commission is made up of the state’s top elected officials and gubernatorial appointees. With political influence potentially affecting which housing deals are funded and whichdeals are not, the safe move is to curry political favor, hold back on criticism, and stay quiet.
But safe isn’t always right.
In eliminating the state low-income housing tax credit, the governor talked about ending “politics as usual.” What he moved to end, though, is funding. He kept the politics completely intact.
Nowhere in his statement on ending the tax credits did the governor present an alternative plan for addressing affordable housing needs in Missouri. That alone is a red herring. There are 28,000 people on the waiting list for affordable housing at the St. Louis Public Housing Authority. In Kansas City, there are 1,600 homeless people and a two- to three-year waiting list at the KC Public Housing Authority. All across Missouri, rents are rising, housing inventory is shrinking, and vast swaths of our neighbors are one stroke of bad luck away from living on the streets. Nearly every mayor in Missouri stands united in opposing the elimination of the tax credits.
A few things deserve light and transparency in this situation:
The commission proposed no changes to eliminate potential political influence from the funding process. Almost all states, except Missouri, allocate their low-income housing tax credits via a point system. A scoring rubric is published in advance, applications are analyzed and scored according to the published rubric, and all scores are posted on state agency websites for public viewing. In Missouri, there is no point system. No one every really knows why a deal was or was not funded. Some of the MHDC commissioners are elected officials. Elected officials receive donations. The whole thing is rife with the potential for influence and a lack of transparency.
Creating a point system also allows the state to prioritize what type of housing it wants, proactively meeting the most pressing housing needs. This ensures the quantifiable results Greitens says are missing from the current program.
If this tax credit program is eliminated, another funding source will be needed to bridge the funding gap for permanent supportive housing. The draft qualified application plan still prioritizes housing for homeless veterans and people with developmental disabilities. Without tax credits or an alternate form of supplemental funding, though, it will be impossible to create the extremely low rents and supportive services required for supportive housing. This alternative should be determined before the tax credit program is eliminated.
Changes to the tax credit program are to be determined by the Legislature, as per the Missouri Constitution. The events of Nov. 17 violated legislative process. Additionally, Commissioner Jason Crowell, who brought forth the plan to eliminate tax credit program, was quickly appointed by Gov. Greitens and has not been approved by the state Senate.
The Missouri Housing Development Commission has failed to act on a state-approved notice of funding availability issued in 2016 for a 4 percent bond funding round. The notice solicited applications for housing applications, with funding decisions expected in March. It is now December and nothing has happened. The applications received were never even posted on the website. Though a new administration might look toward future changes, when Missouri issues such a notice and businesses spend time and money to respond, the notice should be executed.
The best governance is transparent, honest and inclusive. Affordable housing is too important to merit anything less.
Prone to toothy smiles and passionate causes, Stacy Jurado-Miller brought the greater good mission to the Springfield, Missouri-based Vecino Group and maintains its focus today. As a Co-Founder and a Supportive Housing Developer, she’s grateful to make a living through social activism. She’s also grateful for fine-waiving day at the library, morning workouts, and any weekend that doesn’t involve a kid birthday party.
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.
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