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Thursday, September 7, 2017

City Files Suit to Reverse Prop NS Outcome, Declare Victory

Posted By on Thu, Sep 7, 2017 at 2:47 PM

click to enlarge Vacant homes in the city's Hyde Park neighborhood. - PHOTO COURTESY OF FLICKR/PAUL SABLEMAN
  • Vacant homes in the city's Hyde Park neighborhood.
A ballot proposition that seemingly suffered a narrow defeat this spring could see new life — with the city of St. Louis now asking the board of election to reexamine the results.

Prop NS, which was led by a grassroots neighborhood group to tackle the city's vacant houses, won 58 percent approval in April. But the Board of Election Commissioners had said it needed a two-thirds majority, or 66 percent. Prop NS was presumed dead.

But backers began to question that. As the RFT first reported on August 21, Alderwoman Cara Spencer took on an effort to question that interpretation. Yes, the city charter seeks two-thirds passage for any matter dealing with bond issuances, but when state law and the city charter conflict, state law wins. And state law only requires four-sevenths of voters sign off on matters involving bond issuances — or 57 percent.

By that metric, Prop NS had eked out the narrowest of victories.

At the urging of volunteers with SLACO, or the St. Louis Association of Community Organizations, Spencer had asked the city counselor's office for a legal opinion to determine which standard applies. Today, that office did her one better — filing a lawsuit that attempts to get the elections board to reexamine its conclusion.

The lawsuit, filed by City Counselor Julian Bush, seeks a writ of mandamus ordering the board to state that the proposition has actually passed. If the court agrees, Prop NS would become law after all — six months after it was written off as dead.

Spencer said she was thrilled with the city's decision to take up the fight.

"This was an initiative that started over two years ago that was spearheaded by SLACO and a group of volunteers, who put together a plan to address the vacant houses in our neighborhoods," she says. "The petitioners believe it passed, and I agree with them. I praise their efforts to continue to push forward on this project."

click to enlarge Prop NS volunteers Alvin Willis, Sundy Whiteside and Stacy Ross on election night — a defeat that could still turn into victory. - COURTESY OF STACY ROSS
  • Prop NS volunteers Alvin Willis, Sundy Whiteside and Stacy Ross on election night — a defeat that could still turn into victory.

By raising a very small tax on property owners — roughly $3 on a home valued at $150,000 — the proposition would give the city the authority to issue about $6 million in bonds every year for seven years. With that money, the city could do some basic fixes on the vacant homes in its Land Reutilization Authority, or LRA. (The tax increase would go away after the bonds are paid off, which backers say would be twenty years.)

And that, backers hope, would allow those homes to be sold to people who'd fix them up further and put down roots in the city.

"LRA owns 3,400 vacant buildings," said Mayor Lyda Krewson in a prepared statement. "Funds from Proposition NS will be used to stabilize and secure the residential buildings that are able to be rehabbed. Repairing or replacing the roof, tuckpointing and boarding up buildings are important to keeping them water-tight, and encourage development so they can be lived in once again."

The proposition would require that the money only be spent on vacant residential buildings that can be rehabilitated, the mayor's office said. The work would be limited to tuck-pointing, repairing or replacing a roof and completing board-up to secure the property.

Says Spencer, "We haven't had a plan to deal with vacant houses in this city. This is a fantastic opportunity."

Editor's note: A previous version of this story contained inaccurate information about how long the tax increase would be in effect. It would be twenty years, not seven. We regret the error.

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