by Michael R. Allen
In April 2009, Missouri State Auditor Susan Montee completed an audit of the development agencies of the City of St. Louis. The full report is available online here. There are some routine discrepancies noted as well as some very serious ones.
The two that are most relevant to distressed neighborhoods in the city concern the Healthy Home Repair program’s dependence on ward-based allocation rather than on actual need, and Land Reutilization Authority (LRA) sales policy.
According to the report, “[t]he city usually allocates the same amount of Healthy Home Repair Program monies to each aldermanic ward, and it appears the city does not allocate the monies based on the area of greatest need. As of August 28, 2008, there were 3,325 clients on waiting lists mainly in wards with little or no unspent monies, while there were 4 wards with unspent balances that exceeded $120,000 each with small or no waiting lists.”
While all homeowners in the city have a right to access that money, the surplus situation essentially means that many people are not getting money or experiencing delays because some money cannot be spent. That’s absurd. Why not restructure the program so that the pool of money is allocation through citywide open application? that way, every dollar of this precious and important fund would be spent. In many distressed neighborhoods, this money is crucial to stabilization.
The audit’s statements on the LRA are not as specific, but do note the absence of good record-keeping (“LRA does not have contracts related to costs incurred for property maintenance and upkeep”), maintenance policy (“[e]xpenses incurred for maintenance and upkeep are not allocated to individual properties as required by state law”) and sales (“policies for land sale pricing are outdated or not adequately documented”).