Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Cisneros to Start Vaughn Demolition Housing Official Sees Project as New Beginning

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Cisneros to Start Vaughn Demolition Housing Official Sees Project as New Beginning

Article excerpt

Early this afternoon, the nation's chief landlord, Henry Cisneros, will cut a ribbon to begin the demolition of the beaten and broken George L. Vaughn public housing complex.

The secretary of housing and urban development has touted the Vaughn replacement as a new beginning for public housing and a demonstration for cities nationwide.

Cisneros on Sunday helped push the plunger that exploded five public housing buildings in Philadelphia. And after today's demolition in St. Louis, he will do the same in Atlanta, Milwaukee, San Antonio, Baltimore, Charlotte, Newark, Chicago, New Orleans and Puerto Rico.

Here, scores of city blocks of two- and three-story town homes and green parks will replace desolate brick and steel, nine-story buildings. Some apartments will be for public housing tenants, but 45 percent of the 402 dwellings will be for moderate- and middle-income families.

Developers say that those non-poor tenants will provide role models and stem the hopelessness that has gripped public housing for decades.

Many are skeptical of the plan, given the uncertainty of the financing, the track record for public housing here and the decline of the city population.

***** Financing Is Key

Richard D. Baron, president of the project's developers, McCormack Baron and Associates, says "layered financing" is key to the development's success.

He needs $42 million to do the project. He has $20 million from the federal government and is looking to corporate St. Louis and the Missouri Housing Development Commission for the rest.

So far, no corporate commitments have been made.

And Baron won't know before the middle of May whether the state Housing Commission will help. A commission spokeswoman last week declined to comment on the prospects for the grant because the commission had not received Baron's application.

Without the additional help, the mixed-income idea will be scrapped, and Vaughn will become a conventional development limited to poor families.

The challenge for Baron and Bosley is to convince potential investors that another apartment complex is good for the city - a task that some fellow developers believe will be difficult.

One problem, they say, is the city's dwindling population. In 1950, St. Louis had 856,000 residents. Today, the number is down to 380,000. By 2015, the state says, the number will be under 242,000.

And there is the poor performance by many apartment complexes in the city developed in the 1980s through another federal housing program.

Federal and state records show that half of the 89 properties built since 1980 in the city through the federally insured mortgage program have defaulted or have problems, such as low occupancy rates, that have resulted in missed mortgage payments. …

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