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Saturday, Aug. 27, 2016

Bureaucracy stands in way of progress

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Monday's meeting in Sikeston involving the city, the county and representatives from the Department of Housing and Urban Development was a lesson is bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo. The city and county are making two requests of HUD. First, both the city and county want to use excess unrestricted reserve funds that they accumulated over a 20-year period to address topics of need within the city and county. And secondly, the two local governments want a 25 percent reduction in Section 8 vouchers to reflect a declining demand for the subsidized housing units.

Both requests were greeted with polite smiles and no commitments. The end result will likely be that the HUD gurus will keep the excess funds and throw a bone in our direction by permitting a 10 percent reduction in Section 8 vouchers. Despite impassioned comments from local representatives, HUD paid scant interest in our local needs. It was an ugly lesson in the legacy of bureaucracy and complacency.

The county wants to use about $600,000 in the reserves to form a water district in the central part of the county, thereby eliminating flooding and making the land more appealing for residential and commercial development. The city wants some of the excess funds to help finance the demolition of condemned and unoccupied properties in Sikeston. And keep in mind, these funds have been accumulated because of good management practices in the county and city. In fact, most of the funds are actually interest accumulated through the years on excess funds. But HUD sees the issue differently.

Sikeston desperately needs the money to help fund the Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority that was approved by voters here by a 9-1 margin. LCRA can not address the decaying properties without money. And it would seem both prudent and logical for those excess funds to be used for that purpose. How, I ask, can you rebuild affordable, safe housing unless you first remove some of the blight that has attacked our neighborhoods? The answer is you can't.

And the HUD argument against a 25 percent reduction in Section 8 vouchers is just flat out wrong. Roy Pierce, the HUD official from St. Louis in charge of this region, made perhaps the most bone-headed comment I've heard on this argument in my life. Pierce said that the Section 8 is concentrated in Sikeston because there is not available housing elsewhere in the county. Mr. Pierce, get a grip fella. Section 8 is concentrated in Sikeston because other communities within the county don't want it. To misunderstand this point is to ignore all common sense. Actually it just illustrates why communities should have a greater voice in their future than some faceless bureaucrat from St. Louis.

Having said all of that and despite the intervention and support of Rep. Joann Emerson, I think HUD will prevail and continue to tell us what is best for our community. And because of the massive bureaucracy involved, we'll allow that to happen. In many ways, we're defenseless to protect our community against the policies of HUD.

If landlords were to diminish the inventory of Section 8 properties, our case would be easier. But I can appreciate the plight of a landlord who owns property in these problem neighborhoods. No one other than subsidized residents would live there. And thus, finances dictate that the housing is made available for subsidy. That way, the cycle continues.

The legislation that allows HUD to recapture these excess funds was designed to penalize housing authorities such as New York where mismanagement has resulted with a huge piggy bank of excess funds. But in the process, local housing authorities such as Sikeston's were caught in the squeeze.

If we had it to do again, we should have spent those funds and asked for forgiveness. But that time has passed. And now, we await approval from some distant shore to make the changes that we know are needed in our community. This is not the way to run a country nor a government.

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