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St. Louis bill would impose penalty on rehabbers who reduce a building’s dwelling units

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Megan Ellyia Green

St. Louis 15th ward alderman and candidate for president of the board of aldermen Megan Ellyia Green takes questions from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board on Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. Photo by David Carson, dcarson@post-dispatch.com

ST. LOUIS — Newly introduced legislation at the St. Louis Board of Aldermen aims to make it more difficult for rehabbers in many city neighborhoods to reduce the number of dwelling units in apartment buildings.

The measures would impose a $10,000 fee for each apartment eliminated in such conversion projects, with the money going to the city’s affordable housing program.

“We’re seeing kind of a de-densifying of our neighborhoods and a loss of what has historically been affordable housing as a result of these conversions,” Alderman Megan Green, 15th Ward, said in an interview after submitting the package at Friday’s board meeting.

She said whenever a rehabber converts a two-family building to a one-family home, “that’s taking a unit off the market.” Four-family buildings, meanwhile, are sometimes converted to two-apartment structures.

She said such rehabs have been occurring more and more in neighborhoods such as her ward’s Tower Grove South area on the city’s south side.

“We’ve historically been this very diverse, integrated community and it’s getting a lot harder to be able to maintain that,” she said.

“Our housing stock is getting more and more geared to people who can afford large single-family homes that are selling for $350,000 to $550,000.”

She said in some cases the fee could deter people from carrying out such a conversion.

But even if that doesn’t happen during the current high demand and prices for housing, she said, the fee would generate additional money to the city’s affordable housing fund. That fund aids projects to expand and maintain such housing, such as home repairs.

Under state law the new fee would have to be approved by voters if the measure gets through the board; Green wants it placed on the Nov. 8 ballot.

The proposal would exempt some lower-income areas, mostly in north St. Louis.

Also exempt would be rehabs in which at least half of the remaining dwelling units would be set aside for households earning up to 60% of the metro area’s median income.

Green said statistics from the city assessor show that the city lost at least 389 dwelling units to such conversions from 2016 to 2020.

Among other neighborhoods most affected, she said, were Tower Grove East, Shaw, Benton Park West, Fox Park, Benton Park, Dutchtown and Gravois Park. She said the data probably understates the number of dwelling unit reductions because the city doesn’t specifically document conversions now.

Green, who is part of the board’s progressive bloc, was joined by three other progressives in introducing the bill.

Alderman Carol Howard of the 14th Ward, who chairs the Neighborhood Development Committee that will consider the legislation, expressed reservations.

Howard, who is part of the board’s more moderate faction, said she has concerns “when we start interfering with property owners’ rights and add on more fees.”

“If they can’t convert to things that meet 2020 lifestyles, you’re really putting a damper” on a developer, she said.

Mark Schlinkmann • 314-340-8265 @markschlinkmann on Twitter mschlinkmann@post-dispatch.com

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