WELLSTON — The group trying to save almost 200 public housing apartments here believes it has figured out a plan.
Under the new proposal, the Housing Authority of St. Louis County has agreed to dedicate some of its federal rent vouchers to a series of apartment buildings and houses, home to almost one-fifth of the city’s population. The move, officials say, should allow for the renovation of the units, and save them from demolition.
The deal, hashed out over the past few months, does not require the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to issue new housing vouchers for the Wellston units, as originally requested. At the same time, HUD will issue “housing choice vouchers” that would allow existing tenants to find other homes if they choose to move, as HUD has previously wanted to do.
“It’s everything that the tenants asked for and I don’t think we could be any more delighted and grateful we could come to this solution,” said Lisa D’Souza, an attorney with nonprofit legal clinic Legal Services of Eastern Missouri who represents the Wellston tenants.
Susan Rollins, head of the county housing authority, said she submitted the application to HUD on Friday outlining the plan. “Now we can move things forward,” she said.
The proposal appears to resolve differences between the county housing authority, an independent entity with its own board, and the city of Wellston and St. Louis County. HUD has said the units are dangerous and need to be demolished, while the county has said most of the housing is salvageable if an investor can be found to repair it.
“This is the key piece we needed to move forward,” St. Louis County Executive Sam Page said in a statement. “I asked the stakeholders to stick with it, find a path forward and do what is best for the residents of Wellston. Through that perseverance, and with the support of our Congressional delegation, we have a win.”
Under a plan approved by the county housing authority in May, the Wellston public housing was going to be demolished and residents given housing vouchers to use in the private market. Managed by HUD since 1996, the county housing authority assumed ownership of the money-losing Wellston units this year on the assumption it would soon be off of its books.
But when Page unexpectedly took power this spring, he blocked the demolition plan pushed by HUD and convened a group to come up with a way to save the housing so families could choose whether they wanted to leave.
Last month, the group released a plan to entice a developer to repair and take ownership of the housing using low income housing tax credits and 186 rent vouchers tied to the Wellston units. In addition, they asked HUD for 136 choice vouchers so any family living there could move if they wanted to.
HUD responded that it would be happy to issue choice vouchers but left out any mention of vouchers tied to the Wellston housing. Without those, finding an investor to save the Wellston housing was in doubt.
Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-University City, and Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., sent a letter to HUD last week asking for both the choice vouchers and project-based vouchers tied to the Wellston housing.