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Key to the city's future lies in housing

Sunday, February 16, 2003

I have long argued that the key to Sikeston's future lies squarely on the issue of housing. A case could be made that jobs are more critical to our future than housing concerns but increasingly the issue of housing has impacted our efforts to attract jobs. Let me explain why housing can impact the prospects for jobs.

Because of a disproportionate percentage of subsidized housing, employers voice concerns over quality of life issues here. Many but not all low income residents stretch the services of city government, put pressure on the medical community and provide challenges to the school system. A disproportionate percentage of Medicaid patients drive revenues down for our medical community and statistics clearly indicate that a high percentage of disadvantages students drive test scores down in our schools.

So as a community we provide abundant services for those most needy in our society. I could spend the rest of this column simply outlining the programs that feed, house, clothe and assist those most in need. And as a community we should be proud of our efforts to bring services to those who are unable to provide for themselves in these areas.

But within a community there must be a balance between the providers and those in need. Sikeston is most certainly not alone in this challenge.

Through housing however, we have arrived at a position where we attract a growing number of those who most desperately need the services and assistance of others. It could be argued that we have crossed an imaginary line and have put ourselves in a position of trying to provide too many needs to too many people.

A bold and potentially critical decision was made this week to seek a reduction in the number of Section 8 assisted housing vouchers that are available in our community. This move, if realized, will move our community forward after years of stagnation. It will also greatly assist those currently in housing assistance by assuring that their neighborhoods will not become havens of low income concentrations and more closely reflect an overall picture of society.

Our Housing Authority is requesting from the federal government a reduction in our low income housing. We can only hope the feds recognize our concerns and grant that approval.

The second piece of this puzzle is the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority (LCRA) which was approved overwhelmingly by voters to address the issue of substandard housing here. This new group has identified dozens of properties here that need to be removed. And as important, they want to rebuild new affordable housing where the condemned properties once stood. All residents of Sikeston will greatly benefit from their efforts.

But Sikeston voters two weeks ago rejected a funding measure on their utility bills that would have provided resources for the LCRA to accomplish their mission. So it's back to the drawing board for LCRA and the city.

Now Sikeston residents must answer a critical question. Are we willing in some form or another to provide funds for the LCRA to address the housing issue here? I believe the answer is a resounding yes. But the devil is in the details as is always the case?

We have reached a critical point. We have recognized that the issue of assisted housing is a delicate one but an important one to shape our future. Are we now willing to pay for that change?



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