When I read the story about how a public official with the title of “Change Management Coordinator” tried to split the proceeds of $15,000 worth of fraudulent CARES Act grants with a friend that owned five businesses, I could only laugh. If only we could purchase real change that cheaply, but doing favors for business and property owners at the expense of everyone else is just the sort of cruel and usual punishment we’ve come to expect. The story wasn’t the least bit surprising to me, because getting small business loans from the CARES Act was so easy that everyone’s heard stories about the business owner whose employees see them drive in with a brand-new Ford F150. Those loans went out everywhere to Shake Shack, podcasters, and the Ayn Rand Institute, many of them forgiven.
Contrast this with the experience of tenants trying to apply for rental assistance, which is so slow and onerous, the County’s contractor bailed, and despite back rent being one of the most prevalent issues I’ve heard from community members, Missouri still has not managed to spend all of it’s first round of funding. I’ve spent hours dealing with documents and bureaucratic obstructions for just one applicant. All the while I was hoping that the new City and County application promised in December would make it even a little easier.
You could be forgiven for not knowing it exists because as of yesterday it still does not appear anywhere on St. Louis County’s website*, and any search on it will turn up only dead links to the defunct portal from last year. Unlike business owners, tenants are generally not allowed to handle the money before it goes to the landlord. This is a problem because a significant number of landlords are refusing to accept it at all, for reasons I suspect are similar to why the owners of Spanish Cove Townhomes are evicting all of their tenants in Spanish Lake.
In North County we have an eviction bonanza. Coincidentally, the census tract that includes Spanish Cove has the highest number of filings in the region. I’m grateful this has gotten some attention, but it needs to be made clear, if people are being evicted here before their lease term is up, and before a court date, those evictions are illegal. There needs to be an eviction moratorium immediately, and there are plenty of ways the Council could address this directly. Making people homeless is the consequence when housing is traded like a financial asset. What’s more it is the only asset where as soon as it stops generating profit, the owner retains the right to call an armed agent of the state to violently remove people from their homes, just to put that asset back on the market. That state is ultimately under the control of this Council, and it’s time we took seriously that people have a right to a home and we start implementing solutions like funding the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and supporting local control of land and housing through institutions like community land trusts. Because when we make the community unlivable through uncontrolled development and speculation, what is being dumped is not the land, it’s the people who live here, and they have a right to finally by served by their government.
*Postscript: The County Executive clarified that the rental assistance link is on the Human Services Department website. At the time of writing, the search engine on the County’s website returned links to its now defunct portal. The correct page is now linked on the third result for “rental assistance” before the links for the old portal. The correct page to apply for the program is here.