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Weekly Poll: What Do You Think Of When You Hear The Term “Affordable Housing”?

ABOVE: Public housing project before major renovations

Earlier this month I participated in a two-day conference on affordable housing sponsored by FOCUS-St. Louis (agenda- PDF):

FOCUS St. Louis, in partnership with the Des Lee Collaborative Vision, presents Housing: Building a New Foundation for Economic Prosperity. This symposium explores affordable housing in Missouri and Southwest Illinois, taking a close look at the disparity between the location of many jobs and the location of housing that is affordable for workers who fill those positions, and ways to resolve these issues to help build sustainable, prosperous communities.

You are thinking, “Why bother in St. Louis?”  Our housing is cheap, right?  I was on a panel discussing land use policy as it relates to affordable housing.

Affordable Housing is the subject of the poll this week (upper right of site). Results and commentary on Wednesday April 6, 2011.

– Steve Patterson

 

Gas Is Too Cheap

March 10, 2011 Economy, Environment 8 Comments

I’m tired of the news stories about the recent spike in gas prices, as a nation we’ve enjoyed cheap fuel for decades.  Long enough to build ourselves into a corner where if we don’t continue to have cheap gas our society crumbles. Well folks, the party is coming to a close. Now the Obama administration is considering stepping in and selling some reserves:

“The U.S.-held emergency oil supply – called the Strategic Petroleum Reserve – contains 727,000,000 barrels of oil … enough to supply the nation for several months.

Proponents say releasing oil from the reserves would calm spiking gas prices and limit the threat to the U.S. economic recovery. Critics say the oil reserves should be saved for a true emergency.” (CBS News: Would tapping oil reserve help in wake of Libya?)

An increase in price isn’t an emergency — yet.  We need to figure out how to transition from our cheap gas culture (sprawl, limited transit, etc) to the reality the rest of the world has known for years, oil supply is limited.  Officials worry about the economic recovery, but they want to get back to the old economy that requires cheap gas.

In other parts of the world gas can cost the equivalent of $6-$8/gallon! We must work on a plan to get us to this point with as little pain as possible.  We will get there at some point anyway, I’d just rather we planned for it than having it creep up on us.  The pain (war) it will take to keep our cheap gas society over the next 20 years will be far worse than planning for change now.

From April 2010:

“Responding to one of the first major directives of the Obama Administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today jointly established historic new federal rules that set the first-ever national greenhouse gas emissions standards and will significantly increase the fuel economy of all new passenger cars and light trucks sold in the United States. The rules could potentially save the average buyer of a 2016 model year car $3,000 over the life of the vehicle and, nationally, will conserve about 1.8 billion barrels of oil and reduce nearly a billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions over the lives of the vehicles covered.” (Source: EPA)

Raising the CAFE standards was a good start, we’ve got to let gas prices go up so that buys demand the more fuel efficient vehicles the automakers must begin selling in volume.  The longer we wait the harder it is going to be when the time comes.

ABOVE: Modern streetcar in Portland OR
ABOVE: Modern streetcar in Portland OR

The following steps need to be taken:

  • Raise fuel taxes to fund modern urban transit systems (modern streetcars) and discourage auto use.
  • Change zoning & building codes to require compact/walkable development.

We don’t need to ban cars, we just need to tilt the playing field so people have legitimate options to get from A to B.

– Steve Patterson

 

Changes Coming To Macy’s In The Railway Exchange

January 13, 2011 Downtown, Economy, Retail 10 Comments

Macy’s currently occupies the first six floors of the 21-story Railway Exchange Building.

Railway Exchange
ABOVE: The massive Railway Exchange Building occupies an entire city block

The department store plans to consolidate into the lower three floors.  Macy’s contains two restaurants, Papa Fabares on the 2nd floor and The St. Louis Room on the 6th, but you need to know about them because you won’t find any information on their website:

macysdowntown
ABOVE: Macy's website listing indicates a restaurant, but offers no details

The store is still listed as “St. Louis Centre” for the former mall to the north being rebuilt as a parking garage with street-level retail.

ABOVE: The entrance to Papa Fabares on the 2nd Floor of Macy's
ABOVE: The entrance to Papa Fabares on the 2nd Floor of Macy's

Papa Fabares takes you back in time and the French Onion Soup is the signature item.  I don’t see this restaurant going anywhere when Macy’s consolidates.

ABOVE: The lunch buffet at the 6th floor St. Louis Room
ABOVE: The lunch buffet at the 6th floor St. Louis Room

The 6th Floor St. Louis Room, however, will be a casualty since this floor will no longer be a part of Macy’s.

macys-walkway

I’m unsure what will happen to the pedestrian walkway over Olive to the parking garage.  Most months when I go to a regular lunch meeting at the St. Louis Room I just use my wheelchair to travel the 10 blocks to the store, but a few times I will drive my car and then the pedestrian bridge is handy in bad weather.

img_0196

The pedestrian bridge connects at the 4th floor of the Railway Exchange Building, one above Macy’s after consolidation.  It is butt ugly and should go but the sidewalk level disabled entrance faces 6th Street, not Olive.   Removing the bridge might present some ADA access issues.  I’m torn, the urbanist in me says the bridge needs to go but the disabled me says it is handy.

– Steve Patterson

 

Readers: Missouri Shouldn’t Lower Cap On Historic Tax Credits

ABOVE: Massive Arcade-Wright building still awaiting renovation
ABOVE: Massive Arcade-Wright building still awaits renovation, historic tax credits will be key

In July of this year Gov Nixon created the Missouri Tax Credit Review Commission, co-chaired by Steve Stogel & Senator Chuck Gross, to review the various state tax credit programs, including the successful historic preservation tax credit.  From the detailed historic preservation subcommittee report:

“A well-thought-out and skillfully drafted tax incentive for historic preservation cannot achieve its objectives if the total amount of credits that can be awarded annually is subject to a statutory limit, particularly if the limit is fixed at a low figure…

…Where demand for credits exceeds the amount permitted by law, applicants either must compete for credits or participate in a lottery or other arbitrary allocation system. Projects that truly require the state credit to be financially feasible have tended to be discouraged from participating because of the lack of certainty as to the outcome, the cost of preparing a competitive application that nonetheless may be unsuccessful, and the difficulties of keeping financing commitments in place during the evaluation process.”

Still it is possible Missouri will lower the cap on our historic preservation tax credit, thus prompting my poll question & post last week:

Q: Missouri is considering lowering the cap on the Historic Rehab Tax Credit from $140 mil to $75 mil. Reaction?Bad idea, this credit pays for itself 75 70.75%

  1. Bad idea, this credit pays for itself 75 [70.75%]
  2. Good idea to lower the limit 11 [10.38%]
  3. I’d set the cap even lower 6 [5.66%]
  4. Other answer… 6 [5.66%]
  5. We should eliminate this tax credit entirely. 4 [3.77%]
  6. Unsure/no opinion 4 [3.77%]

The six “other” answers were:

  1. Fight for $100 million in order to be realistic about state of politics
  2. The cuts have to come from somewhere.
  3. There are probably other tax credits that should be lowered before this one.
  4. I’m not happy, but I realize we are in the middle of a recession
  5. sacrifices have to be made to have a balanced budget
  6. Good idea if and only if savings are put towards job creation tax credits

No surprise that over 70% of the readership wants the state to not lower the cap.

In November 2008 nearly 85% of St. Louis voters supported Democrat Jay Nixon for Governor.  Statewide Nixon received just over 58% of the vote, showing how much St. Louis voters support Democrats.  Will Gov Nixon listen to the people of St. Louis, or does he know we always vote for the Democrat regardless?

ABOVE: The historic arcade inside the long vacant Arcade-Wright
ABOVE: The historic arcade inside the long vacant Arcade-Wright

St. Louis and communities across the state need the historic tax credit to put buildings back into use, creating jobs & revitalizing areas along the way.

– Steve Patterson

 

These McMansions Will Be Hard To Give Away A Decade From Now

About 8 years ago I had a client on a quiet & respectable street in the suburb of Chesterfield.  What struck me at the time was the number of houses all with a single road to get out of the subdivision.  One visit I stopped to reset my trip odometer just to see how long it was from the main road to their house, it was over a mile and a half!

ABOVE: 1.7 miles between the subdivision entrance & the street with the client's house
ABOVE: 1.7 miles between the subdivision entrance & the street with the client's house. Click image to view in Google Maps.

I remembered this area as I read an article about a recent study :

People who live in walkable communities are more socially engaged and trusting than those who live in less walkable areas, says a new study from the University of New Hampshire.

The study buttresses other research that has linked a neighborhood’s walkability to its residents’ quality of life, notably improved physical and mental health.

The McMansion on the large lot & 3-car garage was once desirable by many, but those days are fading.  This subdivision has sidewalks, but no direct connection to each front door!

ABOVE: 4.1 mile route to "nearby" shopping
ABOVE: 4.1 mile route to "nearby" shopping. Click image to view in Google Maps

Out of curiosity I decided to run the Walk Score for this street.  No surprise it got a 2 out of 100 and the label “auto-dependant”

ABOVE:
ABOVE: A score of 2 compared to an average of 41 for Chesterfield

Half a century ago you couldn’t give away mansions in the city.  They were big, drafty, and “functionally obsolete.”  They lacked modern plumbing, wiring and air conditioning.  A decade from now these McMansions will be obsolete.  The cost to heat & cool these houses alone is enough to make them undesirable but it will be the lack of walkability that will do them in.

In contrast, my downtown address got a score of 95 – walker’s paradise.  My first apartment in St. Louis (CWE) has a score of 91. My first apartment in Old North St. Louis has a “very walkable” 77. The two properties I owned in Dutchtown have a “somewhat walkable: score of 52. Must someone live in a downtown loft to have a high Walk Score? Hardly.  My former office was in Kirkwood where the residential units where the former Target store was located get a 91 “walker’s paradise” score.  Inner-ring suburbs often score high because they originate in days of streetcars.  Ferguson MO gets an 80 and Maplewood 75, both  “very walkable.”  On the Illinois side of the region you have places like Belleville (80) and Edwardsville (86).

Here is how they define the levels.

walkscorelevelsAs gas prices & public transit ridership go up homes in car-deopendent areas will have little appeal.  Areas that are somewhat & very walkable will be retrofitted to become more walkable.  I’ve set up a calendar reminder for December 23, 2020 to revisit this issue, and this street in Chesterfield.

– Steve Patterson

 

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