Candidate Responses from the February 22nd Mayoral Forum at the Sheldon
Question: A fourth of African-American families in the city spend more than 50 percent of their monthly income on housing. The need for affordable housing in the city is therefore overwhelming. As mayor, if you become mayor, how will you address the issue of affordable housing in the city?
Lewis Reed: Well, the first thing we have to do is establish development zones. Take a look at all the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) property that the City owns, take a look at our carrying costs, and roll those carrying costs up into a first-time homeowners’ program. When we establish these development zones within our city, we can work to bring renters in, and we can work to bring new homeowners into these development areas, and make sure that there are housing options available from the lowest all the way up to the highest in housing. I think that’s how we begin to make sure that we have areas that are integrated across the City of St. Louis, and we take care of affordable housing all at the same time. One of the things that we cannot do is repeat the problems of the past by continuing to warehouse poor people all within the same area. I think that that’s a problem. But if we do it in a cohesive and a planned manner, we can make a big difference in the lives of people.
Andrew Jones: Again: I’m not a politician, but again, I work in those areas, working with community development corporations in Southern Illinois. What you’re trying to do in that particular region—you’re trying to integrate different stratas of income, class, and things of that nature. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. But when it does work, it’s because you have a comprehensive plan. And what I need to know and see is the comprehensive plan for community development for the City of St. Louis. Every city that I work with has a comprehensive plan that they stick to to the letter, and they know what fits their particular community. I don’t know if we know what fits our community in trying to get people to move and get into areas where there is affordable housing. It is critical to have affordable housing. But you have to have the right strategic plan so you can have the right mix in order for it to work.
Lyda Krewson: I think certainly there is a need for more high-quality affordable housing in the City of St. Louis—and, frankly, in our region. So we would need to spend more funds on that. There are funds allocated every year to affordable housing that are actually not spent. If you look back historically, the way affordable housing happened during the turn of the century—the 1910s, 1920s, 1930s—it was integrated housing. Mixed-use housing works the best. We don’t need to have all affordable housing in one area. Affordable housing should be mixed into all neighborhoods in the City of St. Louis. That’s the way it was originally developed, and it should be continued to be developed there. There are 25,000 vacant properties in the City of St. Louis. About half of them are owned by LRA. About 7,000 or 8,000 of those are buildings. We’ve got to figure out how to get people back into those LRA buildings that can be rehabbed—perhaps work with the community development housing corporations that already exist, and neighbors and small developers.
Jeffrey Boyd: Over 25 years ago, my wife and I moved to our distressed neighborhood, and we transformed a four-family flat into a three-family because we were concerned about providing affordable housing for people. So for over 25 years, we’ve been providing affordable housing, and as landlords, we have never increased the rent. And we’ve had tenants as long as 10 and 15 years. But in the City of St. Louis, with thousands and thousands of vacant lots, there’s a great opportunity for us. There’s a great opportunity for us to transform all of our distressed neighborhoods, north and south. We need to package all of these LRA vacant lots and buildings and give developers a chance to bid on them and create mixed-used developments throughout the City of St. Louis. The City of St. Louis has been doing development so backwards. What we do is we wait for developers to hand us a proposal and decide whether we’ll fund it or not. We need to stop doing that. We need to plan our own development for our own success in our communities, and we have to include affordable housing as well as other mixed-income uses. And homeless has to be part of that conversation. So I have a plan I’ve been talking about for all of my campaign, and I look forward to implementing it.
Tishaura Jones: I’m not afraid to say that I agree with a Republican. Mr. Jones was right when he said we don’t have a comprehensive citywide plan for development, and that’s exactly what we need. And it needs to include inclusionary zoning for affordable housing. I would include that on new projects, like the tower that’s going up on Kingshighway and West Pine—that would be nice if there was some affordable housing there. We need to rebuild the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and make sure that we can use those funds as creatively as we can to help small developers. Also: include community benefit agreements in new developments, stop focusing on large developers, and help our small developers get access to properties so they can rebuild and rehab homes.
Antonio French: So the first the thing we need to do is fully fund the Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and as mayor, I pledge that we will fully fund that every year. That has to happen. The second thing is when we give large incentives to developments in the nicer parts of town, the more affluent parts of town, we need to require that it has a certain percentage of affordable units so people can have economic diversity in these areas as we rebuild our city. And lastly, when it comes to LRA buildings, we need to make sure that we are getting these buildings off of our rolls and back into the hands of people who want to rehab these houses and live in them. And if that means giving it to them for $1.00 and also giving them some grants to help them do it, then that’s what we need to do. Because we need to get these buildings back occupied and off our rolls.
Click here to read more candidate responses from last week’s forum.
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.