Excellence in Resident Leadership: Megan Betts

Congratulations to Megan Betts, Co-Founder of Northside Neighbors United and community member of Saint Louis Place, recipient of our 2019 Award for Excellence in the Public Sector!

The Award for Excellence in Resident Leadership recognizes an individual who:

  • Has shown incredible volunteerism and involvement in their community and/or community initiatives.

  • Goes above and beyond normal resident action to sit on boards, head committees, or encourage the engagement of other residents.

Humans of St. Louis storyteller Maleeha Samer sat down with Megan to learn more about her work and what drives her. Here’s some of what she had to share.

Megan Betts

Megan Betts

“A defining moment I really reflect on is the day that the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency decided that they were coming to St. Louis. I was sitting in my backyard very upset because of all the friendships I had made with all the residents in my neighborhood, and I knew that they wanted to stay in their homes and that they were losing those homes that had been in their family for decades. At that point, I thought, ‘What else is there to do?’ I looked up and around, I saw the vacant lot, and I thought, ‘They’re coming for us. How are we going to make sure that the rest of us can stay?’ I think about that day when I feel like nothing’s going right, or I’m tired, or I don’t want to do this work anymore. I looked around my house and saw that I might not even be able to stay here to raise my kids, and my neighbors would be far worse off than I would. So what am I going to do to change that?”

- Megan Betts, Co-Founder of Northside Neighbors United and Community Member of Saint Louis Place

Megan Betts

Megan Betts

“My kids go to Gateway Elementary and they’re right by the Pruitt-Igoe site. The trees were being torn down and the dirt from the NGA site was coming up. There was a big spike in asthma attacks in the kids and teachers, and even in those that didn’t have asthma beforehand. How do we get ahead of this to make sure our voices are heard and that we’re on top of working with the developer? One thing I truly remember from a neighbor that has lived in St. Louis Place her whole life is her reminder to always take a step back and think about how this work impacts your family. When I ran for office, I had to be away from my family and from community work. It was perceived that my doing work at the neighborhood association was to win the election. I can’t say yes to everything and make a real impact. So what should I be involved in because my time is limited and I want to do this work for all of them? The hardest was to not be doing the work that gave me the ability to run in the first place. And, oftentimes, you can get so engulfed in this work that your family might suffer. After the election, I realized community and family meant more to me.”

- Megan Betts, Co-Founder of Northside Neighbors United and Community Member of Saint Louis Place

Megan Betts

Megan Betts

“We had the opportunity to bring in a store that brought everyday basic amenities. It was a Family Dollar, but it’s more than anything that we’ve ever had over here after a while. We had little to no business in the neighborhood and that became detrimental. Our elected officials were not in support, and we actually didn’t know that until a neighbor found out. Within a week, we got a petition together for Family Dollar to come in, contacted the company’s representative, had a community meeting schedule, gathered almost 400 signatures, and were able to get it passed at City Hall. That was huge because I know how many people go to that store now. We have a very walkable community and there aren’t a lot of vehicles. So I would consider that a win over here in St. Louis Place.”

- Megan Betts, Co-Founder of Northside Neighbors United and Community Member of Saint Louis Place

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“When I go to community meetings I often hear, ‘What is the biggest thing residents talk about in the neighborhood?’ And ours is not really safety, but home repair. People can’t afford to fix their homes, but they know that new things are coming to the neighborhood and they want to be part of that. There are so many layers for us to get to that equitable standard. We’re still at the bottom, sadly, but we’re working, working, working. Money would make a difference in this work. In my neighborhood, no one is paid to do any community building. Everything is volunteer. One way to look at it is, ‘Oh my gosh, that’s great. Look at all those people volunteering their time.’ The other thing is that there’s a lot of stuff we’re missing out on because we don’t have someone fully dedicated to get deeper into the issues. A lot of us dedicate our time, but then life happens. So we veer off and then we come back together when there’s a fire and we have to put it out. I applaud everything that we’ve done with the little resources we have. But if we were able to pay somebody to do this, we could do so much more.”

- Megan Betts, Co-Founder of Northside Neighbors United and Community Member of Saint Louis Place

 

We hope you can join us to celebrate community builders like Megan at our 7th Annual Community Building Awards on April 11!

 

Photostory by Humans of St. Louis and Maleeha Samer. Photostory narratives represent the opinions of the speaker(s) featured only and do not necessarily represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Excellence in the Community Building Nonprofit Sector: Messiah Community Center

Congratulations to Messiah Community Center, recipient of our 2019 Award for Excellence in the Community Building Nonprofit Sector!

The Award for Excellence in the Community Building Nonprofit Sector recognizes a community-building nonprofit that:

  • Demonstrates excellence in multi-year, place-based, collaborative, comprehensive community building based on strong community engagement.

  • Uses data and evaluation to achieve maximum impact in their efforts.

Humans of St. Louis storyteller Maleeha Samer met with Becky Gill and Pastor Mike Okine of Messiah Community Center to learn more about their community building work. Here’s some of what they had to say.

Becky Gill (left) and Pastor Mike Okine

Becky Gill (left) and Pastor Mike Okine

“I come from Ghana, where community building is just the nature of the people. Throughout the large cities, small cities, and rural areas the sense of community is very high. Everybody cares about everybody. You have different people in your church from different backgrounds. You watch the news. You see what is going on. And you want to be in a church that has hands and feet in the community, so people don’t see you just as a building that people go to on Sundays. At Messiah Community Center, we are defining this space to ensure that it’s open to everybody. We make sure that even though there are divisive issues in the community, we try to save politics. Let’s say you have one party wanting to do something in this space? What about the other group? Yeah, people individually belong to parties, even in the church. But we try to do things that will not divide. We want this to be a place where people can come and have understanding; where they can live together and get to know each other to understand each other.”

- Pastor Mike Okine, Messiah Community Center

“A high priority for us is having community-led events. This isn’t a space that’s about the experts coming in and teaching things, but about the apartments’ residents and neighbors with certain skills that can offer what they know. We had our martial arts classes taught by someone who brought his kids to programming and was like, ‘These classes are great. I would love to do this.’ Now he’s been volunteering for close to a year. Our cooking classes have been led by someone we met who’s living in an apartment building in the neighborhood. We hosted a block party in the fall, and the weather was pretty crappy because we’ve had crappy weather since November. It was fun to see neighbors and different people that have been involved here. One lady noticed we didn’t have any large trash bags because we only had smaller trash cans. So she brought a huge trash bin and started helping with cleanup. We had our cooking instructor bring her family and others to help. And one of the ladies who comes to exercise and her grandson was helping them, too. We had fires going, and kids were coming from down the block to make s’mores. It was cool to see everybody saying, ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ There was food and fun. People were talking and getting to know each other. And a lot of different people that didn’t necessarily know each other before the day started had a really good party together.”

- Becky Gill, Messiah Community Center

 

We hope you can join us to celebrate community builders like the team at Messiah Community Center at our 7th Annual Community Building Awards on April 11!

 

Photostory by Humans of St. Louis and Maleeha Samer. Photostory narratives represent the opinions of the speaker(s) featured only and do not necessarily represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Mental Health and Community Development

Laura Choi, Community Development Research Manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

This column originally appeared in Shelterforce.

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The first time I became acutely aware of the importance of mental health was in high school, when I lost a friend to suicide. It remains one of the most defining experiences of my youth, both in terms of the immediate shock and grief, as well as what I learned by observing the reactions of others.

In our tight-knit immigrant community, the prevailing response was to actively avoid the issue. I assumed everyone stayed silent to minimize the family’s shame, but looking back, I now realize that we were woefully unequipped to respond. We lacked a fundamental understanding of mental health and how to talk about mental health challenges in productive ways, largely driven by cultural stigma. Adults also missed a critical opportunity to change the narrative and shine a light on the importance of proactive mental health promotion. That experience taught me an important lesson: mental health is foundational to every aspect of a healthy, productive life and it must be actively and openly cultivated.

Expanding the Healthy Communities Conversation to Include Mental Health

Over the past decade, the community development field has made great progress in bringing a health lens to its work, and exciting new partnerships between the health and community development sectors are taking shape across the country. These efforts have tended to focus on the connections between place and physical health, with a focus on neighborhood revitalization as a strategy for reducing rates of preventable chronic disease like asthma, diabetes, and obesity. However, the healthy communities movement has been less explicit about mental, emotional, and behavioral health, and it’s time for that to change. The stunning increase in suicide, alcohol- and drug-induced death, coupled with rising rates of anxiety and depression, particularly among youth, demands our collective attention and action.

Promoting mental health and well-being throughout a lifetime is critical for supporting the economic resilience and mobility of low-income people, a key aim of community development efforts. For example, there is clear evidence that poor mental health is associated with reductions in labor force participation and employment. Mental health problems among children have a severe negative impact on educational outcomes, which can limit future economic well-being. Approximately 50 percent of students age 14 and older who are living with a mental illness drop out of high school, the highest dropout rate of any disability group. Perhaps most critically, adverse childhood experiences, which include abuse, neglect, having an incarcerated household member, or substance misuse within the household, are risk factors for poor mental health and have been linked to a number of negative health and well-being outcomes, including risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, and early death.

The community development field has the opportunity to explicitly recognize the relationship between mental health and physical health, and the role that social factors play in both aspects of overall well-being. “Upstream” conditions, such as neighborhood quality or household financial well-being, are important determinants of mental health and can influence factors such as emotional resilience, social connectedness, and self-efficacy. Poverty is a major risk factor for poor mental health. Research shows that community-development-related issues such as unstable housing and unemployment are connected in a complex negative cycle with poor mental health (see figure below). The pursuit of improved population health and expanded economic opportunity for all should include upstream strategies that address community conditions and their underlying structural drivers as a means of promoting good mental health.

Positive and Negative Factors that Influence Mental Health

Partnerships as the Way Forward

In his recent book Lost Connections, journalist Johan Hari synthesizes decades of social science and medical research and finds that poor mental health is driven by a range of factors outside of individual genetic and biochemical factors, which in addition to unresolved childhood trauma, include disconnection from:

  • Meaningful work

  • Other people

  • Status and respect

  • The natural world

  • A hopeful or secure future

Reflecting on these drivers of poor mental health, it becomes clear that the community development field has a meaningful role to play in addressing these root causes. The community development and mental health fields have a critical opportunity to work together, leveraging each other’s strengths, in supporting the mental health of low income communities. Some examples include:

  • Expanding trauma-informed practices, including critical interventions for young children

  • Considering mental health promotion in community design, which includes community gathering spaces and natural elements

  • Designing interventions that increase social connections and foster a sense of belonging

  • Facilitating opportunities for communities to work on violence prevention

  • Partnering to offer community-based mental health and behavioral health services

  • Developing community-driven mental health campaigns and arts and cultural strategies to reduce stigma and shame

  • Raising awareness of mental health issues among frontline staff and providing resources such as training on mental health first aid

As with all complex challenges, no single organization or even sector can do it alone; improving mental health at the population level requires strategic partnerships across disciplines and sectors. To help advance the conversation, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco recently released a publication dedicated to the topic of mental health and community development, recognizing that good mental health helps to contribute to a healthy and inclusive economy. This collection of essays brings a mental health lens to important community development issues like climate change and resilience, racial equity, and affordable housing. It also explores emerging strategies to promote mental health including arts and culture, resident community action, and community-driven solutions in rural areas. Read the full issue here.

As designer and urbanist Liz Ogbu says, “When we work in low-income communities, we tend to focus on need because the lack of resources is so readily apparent and visible. We don’t focus enough on aspiration. In fact, having an aspiration is a luxury we rarely ascribe to poor people, but they’re human; they have hopes and dreams.” Ultimately, this work is about ensuring that every community can be a place of healing and connectedness, where aspiration is a given, and building hope for the future is as central to our field as building housing.

Let’s bring mental health into the open and keep the conversation going. How are mental health issues impacting your community, and what is working to address them?

The views are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or the Federal Reserve System.

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Laura Choi is community development research manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, where she works with a team to expand economic opportunity for low-income communities and communities of color. She is co-editor of the Community Development Innovation Review and was an editor of What It’s Worth: Strengthening the Financial Future of Families, Communities, and the Nation, a book jointly published by the SF Fed and Prosperity Now.

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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.

We invite readers to contribute to the civic conversation about community development in St. Louis by writing an op-ed for the Community Builders Exchange. Op-eds should be short (400-700 words) and provocative. If you have an idea for an op-ed, contact Todd Swanstrom at swanstromt@umsl.edu.

Excellence in the Public Sector: Loretta Hiner

Congratulations to Loretta Hiner, Senior Housing Analyst with the City of St. Louis Affordable Housing Commission, recipient of our 2019 Award for Excellence in the Public Sector!

The Award for Excellence in the Public Sector recognizes an individual, government, quasi-government agency, or tax-supported entity that:

  • Develops or protects policy that supports investment in communities.

  • Demonstrates innovative use of resources for community improvement.

  • Is proactive, persistent, professional, and efficient in finding ways to support community building initiatives.

Humans of St. Louis storyteller Maleeha Samer sat down with Loretta to learn more about her work and experiences. Here’s some of what they talked about.

Loretta Hiner

Loretta Hiner

“When I first started this work, I was focused on what I needed to do and what my responsibilities were. I didn't realize the interconnectedness. Now I see that I’m just one little piece in this much larger pie. And instead of fighting for a slice of pie, I see us making it a bigger pie. Playing off our strengths together, we are all working for a much greater good. It could be people working together to get a city swimming pool open in the mornings. It could be people working together to create traffic calming techniques and to make roads safe for pedestrians and bicyclists. It could be people realizing that they want to live in a community that’s clean and safe, so they start to pick up the trash. Or people looking out for where they live, demanding more, and taking the first step to make it the way they want to make it. When people realize the power within themselves and start using that power, we all see a new exponential strength that we sometimes didn’t even know we had.”

- Loretta Hiner, Senior Housing Analyst with the City of St. Louis Affordable Housing Commission

Loretta Hiner

Loretta Hiner

“There’s a project called East Fox Homes, started by a church in the South Grand area, with a lot of refugee and immigrant congregants who were being priced out of their housing. The church paired up with a nonprofit organization and started identifying a number of vacant and dilapidated houses around the Gravois Park neighborhood, and acquired them. They submitted a multilayered finance project to us, of which we were one funder, to rehab a number of historic structures and convert them into affordable rental housing. At the ribbon cutting, I remember seeing representatives from all the different funders coming together and seeing what it took to get that project done. The church and the nonprofit created a living example in which these units, for the next 30 years, will be able to house generations of people who will no longer be cost-burdened by the price of housing. The new residents have a stake in the community, and they’ll be able to retain more of their income. Now they have firmly established that they belong in the neighborhood and that this is their home.”

- Loretta Hiner, Senior Housing Analyst with the City of St. Louis Affordable Housing Commission

 

We hope you can join us to celebrate community builders like Loretta at our 7th Annual Community Building Awards on April 11!

 

Photostory by Humans of St. Louis and Maleeha Samer. Photostory narratives represent the opinions of the speaker(s) featured only and do not necessarily represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Excellence in Banking: U.S. Bank Community Development Corporation

Congratulations to U.S. Bank Community Development Corporation (CDC), winner of our 2019 Award for Excellence in Banking!

The Award for Excellence in Banking recognizes a bank or lending institution that:

  • Gets involved beyond traditional lending in community building activities.

  • Is creative in how it supports community building.

  • Provides direct support to community building organizations.

  • Has a strong community presence.

  • Demonstrates a deep understanding of the sector and a willingness to accept more risk.

Humans of St. Louis storyteller Maleeha Samer met with Darren Van’t Hof, U.S. Bank CDC’s Managing Director of Environmental and Community Capital, and David Desai-Ramirez, Executive Director of the Southern Region of IFF, to learn more about the CDC’s community building work. Here’s some of what they had to say.

Darren Van’t Hof (left) and David Desai-Ramirez

Darren Van’t Hof (left) and David Desai-Ramirez

“I hear talk about the need for more people that are passionate, committed, and have expertise in investing in the community or engaging in public service. For someone like myself, I’ve literally never thought a day about running for office, and it feels like something that other kinds of people do – something that, if you ever did do, you’d have very little agency within a broken system. But as long as we all continue to have that skepticism, then it’s going to be hard to get to the policies to start to turn things around a little bit. I’ve been influenced by a lot of the activists and what I’ll call truth-tellers. They are telling us the truth about these systems. And they keep reminding us, ‘Are you guys really moving the needle? What about this family over here and their housing? How do we continue to get better and do more?’

The good news for states like Missouri that tend not to be first movers on social policy is that there are models everywhere that we can follow. The even more hopeful news is that they’re in places that politically resemble Missouri. We need more people engaged in public service, and we need corporations that are economic engines. But it’s hard when their shareholders are saying, ‘What are next month’s earnings?’ We’ve got to get to a place where we’re pushing them to take a longer view and ask, ‘How can I exist in 20 years? What will my workforce look like? What investments am I making into the community so that I can be around and be thriving and flourishing in 20 years?’”

- Darren Van’t Hof, Managing Director, Environmental and Community Capital at U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation, and David Desai-Ramirez, Executive Director, Southern Region of IFF

Darren Van’t Hof (left) and David Desai-Ramirez

Darren Van’t Hof (left) and David Desai-Ramirez

“One of the challenges I express every time I’ve been in an Anti-Bias, Anti Racism (ABAR) workshop has been that the people in the room are generally there because they want to be there. You already have a group of willing participants. How do you get at the people that don’t want to have the conversation or don’t think there’s an issue? One of the observations that I’ve seen in a lot of this work has been where people, particularly white people, come into the conversations as their starting point. Some would step into an ABAR workshop and it would be a punch in the face: ‘I don’t understand this. Why are we having this conversation?’ And then there’s a lot of people in the room saying, ‘Oh, we’ve known this for a hundred years. Why are you just now hearing about this?’ So, to me, the challenge is making more people aware. That would go a long way to addressing the problems. There are now second and third generations of families that have only known the suburbs and avoid urban centers like the plague. That didn’t happen a generation or two ago when you might have had parents or grandparents that were part of the urban core. It’s becoming increasingly disconnected, and it’s led by a lack of awareness. If we had awareness, we could start to chip away at some of these conversations.”

- Darren Van’t Hof, Managing Director, Environmental and Community Capital at U.S. Bancorp Community Development Corporation, and David Desai-Ramirez, Executive Director, Southern Region of IFF

 

We hope you can join us to celebrate community builders like the U.S. Bank CDC team at our 7th Annual Community Building Awards on April 11!

 

Photostory by Humans of St. Louis and Maleeha Samer. Photostory narratives represent the opinions of the speaker(s) featured only and do not necessarily represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

No One Single Source Can Fund Transit; However, Missouri Needs to Be a Partner

Dorothy Yeager, Executive Director of OATS, Inc.

Kim Cella, Executive Director of Missouri Public Transit Association & Citizens for Modern Transit

This column was originally published on Citizens for Modern Transit’s website.

Dorothy Yeager

Dorothy Yeager

The State of Transit Funding Commentary

OATS is one of the largest and oldest transit systems of its kind in the nation. It has been serving Missouri since 1971 and currently provides reliable transportation service in 87 counties, with the help of 636 drivers and a fleet of over 800 vehicles. Last year, OATS buses travelled 15 million miles in the state providing over 1.5 million one-way trips. People rely on OATS bus service to get to work, doctors, grocery stores, pharmacies, senior centers, sheltered workshops and anywhere else they need to go. However. the lack of financial support from that state of Missouri has a significant impact on OATS ability to serve them – and, weather federal government shutdowns.

Kim Cella

Kim Cella

Transit investment must become a priority in Missouri. Transit systems across the nation receive approximately 40 percent of their annual operating budgets from their respective states. This is not the case in Missouri. For more than a decade, the state legislature has continued to slash funding to an all-time low, with $1.7 million split among 34 transit providers last year. Many local transit providers now get less than one percent of their annual operating budgets from the state.

This void means OATS, and other Missouri transit providers, must rely more heavily on federal dollars, while seeking creative means to secure funding resources. The federal government shutdown has forced OATS to cut service by 15 percent, and further cuts will have to be made if the shutdown continues.

Despite the here and now with the federal government, persistent lack of state funding is taking its toll on transit providers. This issue must be addressed. According to the Missouri Public Transit Association, service cuts and fare hikes are being made in various communities statewide. This means service in some counties in no longer available at the same level of frequency. Those living in more rural communities are only able to gain access to one or two rips a month. This is not enough for the people who are dependent on transit to gain access to doctors and groceries. And, it certainly doesn’t help someone who might need daily service to get to work.

I’ve worked to further the delivery of transportation services for more than three decades, and if there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it is that there is no single funding source with enough money to ensure OATS can serve all the people in need of its services. It is not being suggested that the state figure out a way to fully fund transit. What’s needed is a bigger, more reliable partnership.

It takes multiple sources to keep buses running – local, state and federal funding, fare revenue and support from riders and other individuals, businesses and organizations. It is essential to the ridership and to the vitality of the state, as public transit helps to stimulate economic development, attracts and retains business, establishes healthier communities, connects individuals to job opportunities, furthers equality and builds sustainable communities.

The need for public transit in rural areas was identified way back in 1971 and Missouri led the way in developing the solution. I ask state legislatures to rally behind this cause and keep transit moving forward.

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Dorothy Yeager is the executive Director of OATS, Inc. and executive committee member of the Missouri Public Transit Association.

Kim Cella is Executive Director of Missouri Public Transit Association and Citizens for Modern Transit.

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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.

We invite readers to contribute to the civic conversation about community development in St. Louis by writing an op-ed for the Community Builders Exchange. Op-eds should be short (400-700 words) and provocative. If you have an idea for an op-ed, contact Todd Swanstrom at swanstromt@umsl.edu.

Congratulations to our 2019 Community Building Awards Honorees!

We’re thrilled to be honoring six incredible organizations and individuals at our 2019 Community Building Awards on April 11!

We’re also excited to announce that we’re working with the amazing Humans of St. Louis team this year to put together stories about the important community building work that each of these honorees is doing. Watch our website later this month for a special post about each awardee!

 

2019 Community Building Awards Honorees

 

U.S. Bank Community Development Corporation
Excellence in Banking

Messiah Community Center / Messiah Lutheran Church
Excellence in the Community Building Nonprofit Sector

Loretta Hiner, Senior Housing Analyst, St. Louis City Affordable Housing Commission
Excellence in the Public Sector

Megan Betts, Founder of Northside Neighbors United and Volunteer in the St. Louis Place and Old North neighborhoods
Excellence in Resident Leadership

Aaron Williams, Project Manager, Penn Services; Co-Founder of 4theVille and Young Friends of the Ville; and volunteer in the Ville and Greater Ville neighborhoods
Rising Star in Community Building

Joe Cavato, Principal and Owner, JAC Consulting
Outstanding Achievement in Community Building

 

Come help us celebrate these incredible folks on April 11!

The Case for a Guaranteed Annual Income

By Paul Dribin

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I predict that most readers of this article are people who care about poverty. Many build and manage affordable housing. Many of us entered this field because we wanted to help improve the lives of people with low incomes and the communities around them. I have worked in the field my whole adult life and have loved the work and the colleagues I’ve worked with.

I have concluded my career by surmising something I’ve been aware of for a long time: that housing alone is not sufficient to conquer poverty. Many projects have provided supportive services with some degree of success. But I believe we need to take things to the next level.

The next step is providing a guaranteed minimum income for everyone at or below 100% of the area median income. This income source would have no strings attached and would be used as a wage supplement.

This policy would have some obvious and not-so-obvious advantages for community and urban development.

First, poverty can be greatly eliminated with cash transfers to lower income households. These families would end up spending most of their money on goods and services, thereby stimulating local and national economies.

Second, housing segregation would be diminished. These funds would enable individuals to live where they wanted, thereby better dispersing poor people to neighborhoods of opportunity. Our present system of affordable housing accomplishes little in dispersing low income individuals across the metropolitan area.

Third, cash transfers would greatly increase the demand for housing, thereby spurring new construction and rehabilitation of existing neighborhoods.

Fourth, I believe it will diminish crime, because low-income people will have an opportunity to be better dispersed around the metro area, not forced to live in high-crime areas. Additionally, higher incomes can contribute to a lessening of crime.

Finally, a guaranteed annual income would be good for communities primarily because it’s the most efficient and effective way to help community members out of poverty. Here are a few reasons why.

  • Our experience with income transfer programs verify this case for a guaranteed annual income. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has reported that the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit took 8.9 million people out of poverty and made 19.3 million individuals less poor. Social Security took 22,068,000 people out of poverty. This data was for the year 2016. Income transfer programs are efficient: virtually 100% of the funds spent go directly to the recipient.

  • The largest housing production program, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, is neither efficient nor effective. It is not efficient because large amounts of the funds allocated go to third parties rather than to the client. It is ineffective because it does not house those who need it the most, people with very low incomes.

  • Large-scale income transfers would generate demand for the construction and rehabilitation of apartment housing. I would recommend a beefed-up HUD financing program that is simpler and quicker to process.

  • Income transfers avoid the problem of community resistance to affordable housing. People are supported instead of projects, and unlike the case with the Housing Choice Voucher Program, landlords would deal totally with the tenant for the rent. Racial and economic integration would be easier.

  • Transfer programs have almost no administrative burdens and give clients the most choices.

Critics will say a program such as this has little chance of passing and is too expensive. I believe it will appeal to political conservatives more than programs with extensive federal rules. It would reinforce conservative efforts to stimulate employment, because people could work in lower wage jobs and be subsidized.

There should be a vigorous discussion of a proposal like this one. It is safe to say that the housing programs we have utilized in the past have not accomplished the end of poverty. Many housing providers I’ve worked with have admitted to me in private that an income distribution program would work far better than a housing program. If we want to increase the health and prosperity of our communities and the residents who live in them, we should adopt a guaranteed annual income.

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Paul Dribin has worked most recently as a housing and community development consultant. He previously served with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for 30 years in a variety of positions. Paul has frequently been called to Washington, D.C. to advise senior staff on policy development and evaluation. He has a B.A. in political science from Roosevelt University and an M.A. in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

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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.

We invite readers to contribute to the civic conversation about community development in St. Louis by writing an op-ed for the Community Builders Exchange. Op-eds should be short (400-700 words) and provocative. If you have an idea for an op-ed, contact Todd Swanstrom at swanstromt@umsl.edu.

Simple Home Modifications Can Improve People’s Lives & Save Taxpayers Money

By Anna Meyer, Graduate Student at the University of Missouri-St. Louis

Everyone should be able to move safely and easily through their homes. But that’s not always easy for Missourians living with disabilities—especially those living in private homes.

Public buildings have accessible entrances and other features that make it safe for residents with disabilities to navigate, but private homes rarely have any of these features. In fact, roughly 90% of homes are not accessible to someone in a wheelchair. As a result, people with disabilities and the elderly are often unable to stay in their homes and are forced to move into expensive skilled care facilities.

We can address this problem by using Medicaid funds to pay for personalized home modifications that make it as easy as possible for Missourians with disabilities to live in a safe, comfortable home.

Wider doorways, ramps, stairlifts, and handrails are simple solutions that can have a huge impact on the safety and comfort of a home. Implementing each of these solutions is easier than moving into a new house, and—for most people—preferable to moving into a nursing home. Individuals who remain in their homes as they age show improved cognition, reduced depression, and higher success with activities of daily living.

Missouri’s current approach to increasing home accessibility is tax incentives. Tax credits are available for individuals who make accessibility modifications to their homes. Unfortunately, these often can’t help those who need modifications most. Many individuals don’t have the money to pay for modifications out of pocket, and they may not pay income tax—so a tax credit won’t help them. Moreover, each step of the home modification process takes resources that many Missourians living with a disability lack. Residents must invest time, knowledge, energy, and money up front as they determine what modifications are needed, find a contractor, and negotiate prices.

This is why I recommend Missouri try a new approach to home modifications: funding and helping residents in need arrange modifications to their homes. Specifically, Medicaid recipients would be able to sign up to receive visits from occupational therapists (OTs) who would assess their individual goals and needs. OTs would then create a work order for a contractor to make necessary changes to the patient’s home, working with a budget of up to $1,500 per patient. After the changes are made, the OT would return to discuss with the individual how to use their new tools and help them develop plans for safely navigating their home.

This strategy would reach Medicaid recipients all over the state and remove several barriers that currently make it difficult for Missourians with disabilities to access home modifications. It would allow occupational therapists to expertly direct and personalize a patient’s modifications. It would remove the burden of choosing a contractor, negotiating prices, and directing construction from the individual with the disability. The government can work with contractors to ensure fair pricing across the state, adding a layer of protection against senior scams.

A program like this would also save taxpayer dollars. Studies have shown that an individual aging in place can save almost $1,600 in Medicare and Medicaid costs each month compared to those in nursing homes. That means for each person who is able to remain in their home, Medicare and Medicaid save over $19,000 each year! A one-time $1,500 expense for minor home improvement could pay for itself in less than a month.

A similar program called Community Aging in Place, Advancing Better Living for Elders (CAPABLE), implemented in Baltimore from 2012-2015, proved to be a success. On average, participants significantly improved in their ability to complete daily activities, which enabled them to continue safely living at home instead of moving into a nursing home. Research showed that the program even decreased depressive symptoms as independence and safety improved.

We have the strategies and resources we need to ensure all Missourians have an opportunity to live in homes that are safe and comfortable. If you want to both improve quality of life for the elderly and people with disabilities and save taxpayers money, tell your elected representatives that you support bringing CAPABLE to Missouri.

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Anna Meyer is a graduate student at the University of Missouri-St. Louis who is studying public policy administration and nonprofit management. She is especially interested in policies relating to individuals living with disabilities.

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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.

We invite readers to contribute to the civic conversation about community development in St. Louis by writing an op-ed for the Community Builders Exchange. Op-eds should be short (400-700 words) and provocative. If you have an idea for an op-ed, contact Todd Swanstrom at swanstromt@umsl.edu.

Welcome to CBN’s Three Newest Board Members!

CBN is excited to welcome three new members to our Board of Directors in January 2019!

CBN’s Board appoints a Board Nominations Subcommittee to oversee the nominations process. During fall 2018, this committee evaluated current Board strengths and gaps, created a scoring tool based on identified priority areas, solicited nominations, scored and evaluated finalists, and made a recommendation to the full Board in December.

 
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Alana Green
St. Louis Housing Authority
Executive Director

Alana was recently appointed Executive Director of the St. Louis Housing Authority, whose mission is to efficiently build and maintain desirable, affordable housing for residents of the St. Louis area through forthright leadership, innovative partnerships, progressive technology, and expansion of new resources.

Alana has an extensive housing and community development background, spanning almost 20 years. Immediately prior to coming to the St. Louis Housing Authority, Alana was the Executive Director of the City’s Community Development Administration, where she was responsible for overseeing and directing public policy, federal programs, and regulations research for urban development programs. She managed a staff of approximately 30 professionals who are responsible for the implementation and evaluation of approximately $50 million in federally funded programs. Prior to her tenure with the City, Alana served as the Assistant Director of DeSales Community Housing Corporation, a premiere development organization.

Alana has a Juris Doctorate degree with a concentration in Urban Development, Land Use and Environmental Law and a Masters in Public Administration, both from Saint Louis University. She is the recipient of CBN’s 2017 Award for Excellence in the Public Sector and a graduate of the CORO Women in Leadership program.

Alana has long been a champion for CBN and its member organizations and has worked to collaborate with and draw upon the expertise of the CBN network.

 
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Timetria Murphy-Watson
Grace Hill Settlement House
Interim ERSEA Director of Community and Housing Services

Timetria is a native St. Louisan who discovered early in life that her calling is to serve in community development. Uniquely positioned, Timetria completed her undergraduate degree in Human Development from Stephens College in three years. In 2015, Timetria earned her Masters of Social Work with an emphasis in social and economic development from Washington University’s George Warren Brown School of Social Work.

After graduation, Timetria co-founded and served as Executive Director of LinkStL, a grassroots community organization focused on connecting people to possibilities and neighbors to their neighborhoods. After two and a half years serving as LinkStL’s Executive Director, Timetria seized the opportunity to serve as a consultant for the organization while serving as the Director of Community Development Programs for Grace Hill Settlement House in North St. Louis. Currently, Timetria is serving as Grace Hill’s Interim ERSEA Director of Community and Housing Services, where she leads several initiatives, including College Hill Neighborhood Solutions, a neighbor-led initiative born out of research created by Health Equity Works and Grace Hill that’s working to transform Peace Park in the College Hill neighborhood.

Timetria has worked in the Community Development sector for eight years and diligently continues her work of bridging gaps in communities, where she knows there are hidden jewels.

Beyond her professional career, Timetria is a member of the Project Connect Neighborhood Working Group (NWG), a coalition of North St. Louis City stakeholders who serve to align the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), the City of St. Louis government, and the eight neighborhoods surrounding the future NGA site. Timetria has been engaged with CBN’s Organizational Capacity Building Committee and Community Engagement Action Group over the past several years and was tapped as one of the inaugural members of the Vacancy Collaborative’s Vacancy Advisory Committee in 2018. Timetria also serves as the executive assistant of Joshua House Minister Christian Church. As a neighbor in North St. Louis, her biggest investment is being a proud mother of her 1-year-old baby girl, Jade and her 4-year-old son, Ja-Mes IV, and the wife of Ja-Mes III.

 
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David Noble
Midland States Bank
Director of Community and Economic Development

David was recently promoted to Director of Community and Economic Development at Midland States Bank. In this role, David directly supervises the Regional Community Development Relationship Managers (RCDRM) in Midland’s Rockford and East Region while fulfilling the responsibilities of the RCDRM in Midland’s Southern Illinois and St. Louis Regions. Prior to moving into this new position, David had served as Midland’s Community Development and CRA Officer since joining the bank in 2014.

David has an M.S. degree in Urban Planning & Development from Saint Louis University and more than 10 years of community development experience. He serves on a number of boards and committees focused on community and economic development for local, regional and statewide initiatives, including Housing Action Illinois, Habitat for Humanity-Illinois, Rebuilding Together-Saint Louis, CareSTL Health, Metropolitan Saint Louis CRA Association, 100 Black Men of Metropolitan Saint Louis, Monsanto Family YMCA and the Veterans Business Resource Center. He is also highly involved in the community-based efforts of such organizations as the American Planners Association, Urban Land Institute, Council of Development Finance Agencies, United Way African American Leadership - Charmaine Chapman Society, Whitney Young Society - Urban League of Metropolitan Saint Louis, and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.

David has been a supporter of the CBN-led Metro East Coalition over the past year and a half and was a key partner in CBN’s 2016 Ladder of Capacity Building on the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA).