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Public housing units in Wellston at risk

Rylie Vickers, 3, plays outside her apartment complex on Isabella Avenue in Wellston on Friday, April 26, 2019. Housing officials are considering getting rid of 201 public housing units in Wellston, including the one pictured here. Photo by Cristina M. Fletes,

CLAYTON — The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has agreed to pause for 120 days plans to demolish public housing in Wellston, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page told the County Council on Tuesday.

“HUD’s decision was short-sighted and, if executed, would have harmed our community, its residents, and its future,” he told the council at its regular meeting. “My intervention led to a meeting in Washington on Monday between HUD Secretary Ben Carson, Congressman Lacy Clay, and Wellston Mayor Nate Griffin, and others.”

He said HUD agreed to a 120-day pause “to come up with a plan that works for everyone. That includes reevaluating all of the public housing stock and determining what can be rehabbed and saved.” Page last week blasted HUD over the process, which had seemed certain to lead to the demolition of Wellston’s 200 public housing units.

A representative for HUD could not immediately be reached.

APPEALS DEADLINE Page also said Tuesday he is asking the board that handles property value appeals to extend the July 8 deadline for accepting appeals. The Board of Equalization expects to hear at least 25,000 property value appeals this summer after the county’s biennial reassessment. Preliminary figures from St. Louis County Assessor Jake Zimmerman showed the median home value grew 15% from the last reassessment in 2017.

The board is bound by statute to begin its hearings on the first Monday in July and complete its work by the fourth Saturday in August. A reporter who dropped by the board for about an hour Friday found the appeals moving quickly and in an orderly manner.Page told the council: “St. Louis County’s website was inundated with constituents attempting to meet that deadline. They were met with slow speeds, technical glitches and, at one point, a short website outage. Several constituents shared their frustrations with our office.”

Zimmerman said through a spokeswoman that he supported the idea, but a representative for the Board of Equalization could not be reached late Tuesday.

PHONE CONTRACTThe council voted 4-1 to reject a contract with Securus Technologies Inc. for phone service at the St. Louis County Jail. The county had bid the contract out for firms to provide phone calls to inmates at 21 cents per minute. Securus had been selected with a bid that would have given the county a 77% commission on phone calls, or 16 cents per minute, and 25% on video calls, for two years.

The county estimated it would get $960,000 a year from the contract, compared with $830,000 from its current contract with IC Solutions. Page proposed Tuesday setting aside the $130,000 balance to hire more medical professionals as part of a larger plan to reduce financial burden on inmates.

Given Page’s priorities, a majority of the council was uncomfortable with agreeing to a contract that would have the county profiting off inmate phone calls. Tim McAteer, the president of IC Solutions, told council members the county could have asked bidders to provide lower rates for inmates rather than higher commissions for the county.

In voting no, Councilwoman Lisa Clancy, D-5th District, noted that the contract had been put out to bid during former County Executive Steve Stenger’s tenure, and the county had different priorities now.

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