Affordable Housing Is Not A St. Louis County Tradition

Glenn Koenen

Head east of I-255. With the Jefferson Barracks bridges looming, take the last Missouri exit at Koch Hospital Road. Then, quite quick, turn hard right onto Kinswood Lane. There, with a picturesque view of oil storage and the highway’s hillside, find Gateway Accessible Housing – the newest low-income housing complex in south county. The small one bedroom, one bath units were built in 1999. A mere 20 minute bus ride away from Walmart and Sav A Lot, the complex adheres to a St. Louis County tradition – build affordable housing as close to the county line as possible.

For example, back in 1979 St. Louis County allowed construction of Hawkins Village Apartments (which has always accepted Section 8 housing vouchers) three blocks from the Jefferson County line [1089 Caballo Ct 63026]. In that same era, Black Jack, Missouri incorporated in large part to prevent construction of affordable housing on the county’s northern flank.

Attacks against affordable housing proposals are predictable: in Oakville they filled the library, the high school gym and the county council chamber with enraged residents protesting a 44 unit apartment building for moderate income seniors due to the crime (read: black people) sure to follow: the place got built anyway, and, surprise, widow ladies (many from Oakville) instantly filled it! [ http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/after-outcry-and-anger-oakville-senior-living-opens-capacity#stream/0 ]

So, traditionally, affordable housing is not built: middle class neighborhoods are encouraged to decay to the point where they become affordable.

Way, way back in the early 1950’s my parents purchased a middle class post-war starter home in Hanley Hills. If that home on Mallard Drive had paced inflation its current value would be $87,000: tax value is around $35,000 and Zillow has a home in Hanley Hills listed at $25,000 and another at $27,500 [ https://www.zillow.com/hillsdale-mo-63133/ ]. While government policy encouraged suburban sprawl and St. Louis County acted to preserve value in tonier central corridor municipalities, north central county was allowed to become ‘affordable.’ That benign neglect spread to most of the county north of Delmar and Page.

Coincidentally, the bulk of the county’s African Americans moved into north county.

Before there was a Chesterfield, a trailer court emerged just above the Gumbo Flats south of Highway 40. As is the way, sprawl brought people with money and they created Chesterfield to make the area safe for rich people and retail developers.

The trailer court still served an important function, providing housing to Logan College students and struggling families. Like a handful of small apartment complexes in west county, the park allowed some necessary workers in the region to live close to jobs.

Of course, the trailer park was doomed.

While the Chesterfield zoning board offered the residents a small victory [ http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/mobile-home-park-residents-in-chesterfield-win-battle-in-a/article_e93fa93f-00b9-5223-bcb4-6c14b9edd80b.html ], rest assured that in Chesterfield money always trumps justice. Between courts and the city council, Chesterfield will give the developer a way to make big money.

Oh, the developer promised the apartments will be “market rate.” Judging by other rentals in the area, that probably means $1,200 a month for two bedrooms and $1,500 a month for three. So, a working mom with two kids will need an income of about $55,000 to $60,000 a year to qualify.

Perhaps in 40 or 50 years those new apartments will degrade to affordable housing too.

Submitted by Glenn Koenen, WCD Member

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