Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Wanted: Decent Housing for the Poor

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Wanted: Decent Housing for the Poor

Article excerpt

The first hint of winter is in the air. And with the first freeze in St. Louis, hundreds of families will end up on the street as landlords abandon units rather than replace central heating. It's a vicious cycle: The plumbing freezes. The unit becomes uninhabitable. Another affordable unit is lost to the market.

Today an estimated 43,000 St. Louis area families are in line for low-income housing.

In the end, the poor are faced with a relentless arithmetic: More than half of all low-income renters in this city live in substandard housing - rat-infested quarters with holes in the floors, crumbling plaster, exposed wires, insufficient heat and lead-based paint. Landlords aren't getting much rent so they don't make improvements; tenants are afraid they'll be evicted if they complain. They don't have the money to move.

Reports show that housing expenses consume at least half of the income of the majority of the area's poor households - regardless of race. In fact, contrary to the improved affordability of home ownership in the far suburbs, the average rental cost burden for the poor is at a 25-year high.

Why should we care about saving aging housing or housing the poor? Because study after study shows that unless we meet the housing needs of the poor, all our efforts to encourage economic growth and the influx of middle- and upper-income people into the city will fail. Housing for low-income people has always been part of a larger housing market. Most of the programs of the last 30 years have ignored this and tried to deal with affordable housing as an independent problem needing a separate solution.

What is the answer to this critical problem? Allowing our housing market to work for the poor as well as it has for the middle class and wealthy. We should create a competitive system that rewards - rather than penalizes - developers who build and rehab housing for low-income families. Instead of supporting a system that encourages owners to abandon units, we should encourage owners to maintain units for the long haul.

St. Louis corporations have supported a program that could serve as a model for a much larger initiative. …

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