Gimme, Gimme

Badges and fire hoses trump affordable housing and health care for the poor

A meeting last week between members of the Affordable Housing Commission and the mayor's staff did not appear to make any progress. There seemed to be a lot of shadowboxing about how much money Slay would have to guarantee the commission from a rejiggered use tax to win the backing of the commission and housing advocates on a second referendum.

"There's too much need. It's been neglected for too long to just take $5 million and say, 'We'll do what we can,'" says Colleen Starkloff, chairwoman of the committee. "I don't want to fight about the money, but I will if I have to."

Another commission member, Rachelle L'Ecuyer, wasn't impressed with the worldview of the mayor's staff: "What I picked up on in that meeting was they didn't have an idea of what affordable housing means."

But in a cash-strapped city, they know $20 million when they see it.

The commissioners argue that Slay and City Hall strongman Jeff Rainford obsess about gentrification and attracting upscale earners to live in the city but don't realize that this type of development won't happen until neighborhoods are stabilized by giving working-class citizens affordable options for housing.

"Jeff Rainford knows very well what this is about," says Barrett. "There's a lot of bravado going on right now and a lot of, frankly, foolish talk which is going to alienate the housing community and reduce the chances that people are going to be willing to go to the bargaining table."

Smoke signals from the mayor's staff play up the perception that the current arrangement provides $10 million a year to fund just the homeless and the poor when what is needed are more police and help for middle-class neighborhoods. That's an image housing advocates are anxious to blow away.

"It's got to be real clear that the majority of the money, 60 percent, goes to working-class people who are teachers and firefighters and policemen who need a home in the city. We're hurting people who are trying to work for their community and make St. Louis a better place," says Barrett. "We have to argue it on its merits. The vision that we had of 800 homes getting built, financed or repaired would have really changed St. Louis. We talk about how important it is to have dedicated money for health and housing versus having money that is subject to the whim of 28 aldermen and one mayor."

But this one mayor and his minions have begun the media campaign, as shown by the shameless shilling already started by the P-D's Walter Winchell wannabe, Jerry Berger. First there's an item saying Fire Chief Sherman George is anxious to get some of the money redirected from the use tax to pay for a "portable radio system" for firefighters. All that was missing was a tacky reference to how such a system might have saved the lives of firefighters Derek Martin and Robert Morrison, who died in a fire on May 3. Don't be surprised when that's trotted out for an ad.

Another trial balloon floated by Berger, probably after being inflated by City Hall Minister of Propaganda Richard Callow, was in Tuesday's paper. The Bergermeister typed that the housing commission members were ready to compromise if they were guaranteed $5 million from the use tax. Well, that's simply not true. That sort of disinformation was published to make the housing commission look greedy if they asked for something less that what they are already getting.

In the same Tuesday's paper, a P-D editorial compared what the mayor's staff was doing with the use-tax grab to bankrupt parents robbing their children's lemonade stand. Too bad more people read Berger than the editorial page.

Whatever spin is applied, the simple truth is, badges and fire houses win out over housing for the working class and health care for the poor. And a mayor desperate for money knows this.

« Previous Page