Nightmare For The Peacemakers
I thought my family and I had a house. We went through all the hoops to create a proposal to present to the board of directors who control the vast majority of the abandoned property here in Saint Louis. We went to the board to show our faces and answer any questions they may have had about our proposal or our ability to carry it out. We were approved without question. We thought we would be starting on our rehabilitation by now. Unfortunately, somebody else had different plans.
When the letter confirming our approved status arrived in the mail it contained a condition. In order for us to gain title to the property the board required us to take out the previously approved construction loan prior to receiving the property. My jaw hit the floor. In order for me to buy a three thousand dollar piece of shit property I had to convince the bank to give me a two hundred thousand dollar loan to rebuild it. The proposal we submitted said plain as day that we wanted to rebuild the property ourselves and that we would have X amount sweat equity hours and a budget of Y amount of dollars over Z number of years. The board had an opportunity to ask us questions about our plan if there was any misunderstanding and declined. Yet, some bureaucrat at the LRA decided that we were in over our heads and took it upon his or her self to force us to hire contractors to do the work.
Has anyone in the city followed the news lately to see what’s happening in the credit market? Even with the most excellent credit rating people aren’t getting loans because there simply isn’t any money to loan. And even if there were why would I want to borrow money when the budget and plans for my house have been approved?
A call to the LRA office got us nowhere. Some secretary or receptionist of the woman whose name appeared on the letter simply told us that the representatives of the city were concerned that we were taking on a project that was too large. We can have the house but the city wants to make sure the project is completed in a timely manner. The city was within its rights to require the project to be completed in a timely fashion.
We called the little lady over the Old North Saint Louis group who is helping to manage the redevelopment project. In the years that she’s been working with the city she never saw such a condition placed on anyone’s approval letter. She wanted us to fax a copy of the letter to her so she could get to the heart of the matter. After waiting a few days she came back with the name of a financial broker who would be able to help me secure the funds. So much for her getting to the root of our problem. Securing funds wasn’t the problem. The problem was that we didn’t want to go into debt to rebuild this house, at least not in this current housing market crisis. Nobody in their right mind these days would give us a two hundred thousand dollar loan on a house that has an estimated value of three grand. I wouldn’t even think to take out a loan based on such numbers. We were not going into debt to own this home. If I wanted debt I would go and buy a two hundred thousand dollar house.
We called the city alderwoman over the ward where the house sits. The alderwoman never heard of the city making such a move. But she did tell us that the city is well within its rights to require assurances that anyone who purchases property has the financial resources to complete a rehabilitation project on hand. But has the city ever exercised this right before? Not to her knowledge. The alderwoman was of no help.
On the day of our deadline to accept the city’s terms we called the LRA legal department and starting asking questions. Does the city require people buying abandoned properties to secure funds before they can accept the deed? Not normally but it’s totally proper. So how often does this happen and what are the conditions that would require funds to be secured? Well it’s totally at the discretion of the board. But how often does it happen? I’m not at liberty to say really. But isn’t it just a matter of public record? Wrong number! (Click) Not exactly what happened but close enough.
Within hours of talking to the legal department the woman who worked in the office of the woman whose name appeared on the original acceptance with conditions letter called us back. She was somewhat perturbed. She didn’t understand why in the world we would be concerned and calling around trying to figure out why we were being told to take out a loan and having so many people telling us how unusual this move is. It was nothing but a misunderstanding and the city is now ready to withdraw the condition. It’s no big deal! Obviously it is a big enough deal to be added to the original approval letter. We were assured that a second letter would follow and the deadline for acceptance would be extended.
When we originally found the house we wanted, we took a drive through the neighborhood to see exactly what was happening in the area. There were a number of people working on their new homes on their own. Although some people had experience working on houses virtually nobody hired contractors to do the work. One horror story was about this one house where the new owner wanted to dig the basement deeper in order to add some height to the basement ceiling. He dug out the back of the house, knocked out the back wall, and drove a little bobcat into his basement to help facilitate the dig. This was back in April when the rains were particularly heavy.
On a subsequent drive through the neighborhood, the house had collapsed upon itself. The rains had turned the ground to mush and it started to move. The weakened foundation couldn’t resist the movement of the ground and went along with the flow. One of the exterior walls followed suit and the house simply folded in on itself. As we drove by we could see all the work the owner had already put into the project. There was fresh yellow pine lumber jutting out of the rubble with brand new metal brackets at the ends to secure the new lumber to the rest of the house. It was a massive loss. And the little bobcat was sitting in the basement at the bottom of all that. Obviously the city allowed other people to manage their rehabilitation projects and make their own mistakes.
One of the other things that we noticed as we drove through the area was that without exception, the people who were to be our neighbors were white. It may have been coincidence. But no one we saw working on their home was black. Nobody involved in any part of the rehabilitation project was black.
I can’t prove it. I really don’t have the time or the desire to research all the motives of what may have happened. But my theory is that the woman at the LRA office took it upon herself to cast judgment that the black people who were trying to buy one of these nice houses didn’t know what they were doing and decided to save us from ourselves, or simply tried to keep us out of their new nice white neighborhood. The woman took it upon herself to treat us with disparity in order to keep the status quo. And it’s unfortunate. Instead of giving black people the same opportunities as other people, somehow black people are held to a different standard. In this situation, much higher standards and seriously unfair standards. We have been conditioned to think that it is okay to put obstacles in black people’s path without even a second thought.