ST. LOUIS • A Missouri tax credit program that has helped build thousands of low-income housing units should focus now on smaller projects in more affluent areas.
Those are among the suggestions in a report requested by Missouri Treasurer Clint Zweifel due to the high concentrations of subsidized housing in the Ferguson area.
Critics say that having lots of low-income housing in a single area — especially in those that are impoverished — leads to crime and accelerates neighborhood decline.
But addressing the situation is made more complicated by the fact that multiple state, federal and local programs comprise subsidized housing.
The report — conducted after the August shooting death of Michael Brown near the heart of Ferguson’s low-income apartment complexes — reviews such programs, including federal Section 8 vouchers.
But the report focuses mostly on projects funded through federal and state tax credits under the oversight of the Missouri Housing Development Commission.
The program has exploded in recent years, with more than 50,000 housing units now in use — more than four times the number in 1996. Units funded by the tax credits now constitute a third of all subsidized housing in the state.
Traditional public housing units that are owned and run by agencies such as the St. Louis Housing Authority have dropped from 21 percent of all subsidized units to 12 percent since 1996, according to the records in the report. The changes have put more responsibility on the housing development commission to oversee affordable housing options across the state.
And yet, the lengthy report suggests that the agency is not doing enough to combat the high concentration of low-income housing.
“We must ensure that the housing produced is not only affordable and high-quality, but that it is appropriate under the circumstances,” Zweifel wrote in December, when announcing his call for the study. He was not available for comment Thursday.
His request followed news reports about subsidized housing in areas near where Brown was shot. Those include tax-credit supported Park Ridge Apartments and Northwinds Apartments near West Florissant Avenue in Ferguson.
Investors are subsidized for renovating the properties, which have a combined 774 units. As part of the contract, all residents in the sprawling apartment complexes must earn less than 60 percent of median income. The area of concentrated poverty was a hot spot for police calls for service before Brown was shot in the nearby Canfield Green Apartments.
Zweifel, who also sits on the state housing development commission, had asked for a review of “policies and procedures that analyze the need for housing and the existing density of low-income housing in a particular area,” including Missouri Housing Development Commission housing and other subsidized programs.
In the report documents, Kip Stetzler, interim executive director of the housing development commission, listed a host of potential changes to the review process of Low Income Housing Tax Credit, or LIHTC, project proposals:
• Prohibiting any developments with more than 50 units, with some exceptions.
• Putting higher priority on LIHTC proposal projects that include “service enriched housing features” such as day care services, tutoring, shuttle service and youth and parenting programs.
• Giving priority to proposals that are part of a municipal approved redevelopment or master plan.
• Adding local police departments to the list of entities that need to be informed about the project proposal.
• Prohibiting new construction in census tracts where more than 20 percent of housing units are subsidized, with some exceptions.
• Creating a new priority for project proposals in census tracts where the poverty rate is below 15 percent.
The suggested changes would need to go through a gamut of public hearings and agreement by housing commission members, who include Gov. Jay Nixon, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder and Attorney General Chris Koster.
The commission’s staff has also recommended that $185,000 in unused Missouri Housing Trust Fund money be awarded to St. Francis Community Services, formerly Catholic Charities Community Services, to work with residents in five apartment complexes clustered in southeast Ferguson: Oakmont Townhomes, Versailles, Northwinds, Park Ridge and Canfield Green.
The report was prepared in advance of a meeting that had been scheduled by the commission for Friday. On Thursday afternoon, the meeting in Columbia, Mo., was canceled and has not been reset.