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TRAPP'S CATCH: Councilman sells new homeless shelter as land banking scheme

A social program with a troubling catch

COLUMBIA, Mo 6/22/13 (Beat Byte) -- A proposed $126,700 "homeless day center" could serve as a City Hall land bank for future downtown development, a Columbia City Councilman suggested at Monday's meeting.
 
Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp's comments have sparked more controversy about plans to spend a nearly $2 million city surplus

Mr. Trapp spoke at length about the social benefits of a homeless day center.  "It's really one of the neatest, most collaborative community wide efforts I've seen," he said.
 
Then he surprised listeners with a sales pitch of a different sort. 
 
The city would use surplus funds to buy land it would lease to a non-profit for the day center. 
 
"When their lease is up, it will be a nice redevelopment opportunity," Trapp explained.  "The City would maintain ownership of the land.  Most entities can't invest $126,000 in something that is gonna have huge payoffs, financially, in fifty years, say.  It's a great investment for the city."
 
Mr. Trapp said The Wardrobe -- a thrift store at 715 Park Ave. -- may face a similar long-term fate.  City Hall owns "that nice piece of property," he said.  "Land close to downtown is a great long-term investment.  It's gonna be worth way more than it is today."

The homeless day center idea comes as the Columbia Housing Authority plans to take back property local churches use for a similar purpose.   The loss will be a setback for homeless people trying to get back on their feet, Trapp emphasized.  To secure grant funding, find employment, and take shelter from the elements, homeless persons and the non-profits who help them need physical space, he said.
 
But the "catch" attached to his proposal has a poor track record.  

Projects to restore the Blind Boone Home and Heibel-March Store have languished for a combined 30 years under similar setups:  City Hall maintains ownership of the land while leasing it to a non-profit charged with operating whatever enterprise occupies the land.   Council members recently apportioned $326,000 from the city surplus to save the Boone Home from this failed arrangement.
 
Even more worrisome is another City Hall-sponsored downtown redevelopment scheme.   From Blight to land clearance in the Sharp End, these schemes -- which are invariably attached to noble social goals -- have a terrible history.

On a broader front, critics question how much of a role city government should play housing the homeless, especially in the face of ever-rising taxes and fees -- for police protection, storm water improvements, and residential utilities. 

Radio talk show host Gary Nolan listened incredulously to suggestions for the surplus in an interview last week with Fifth Ward Councilwoman Laura Nauser.  Nauser expressed her own doubts Monday, saying she has received "lots of questions from constituents."  
 
Columbia Daily Tribune comments have been similarly skeptical.

“Instead of spending $120,000 for a homeless center, maybe we can...spend the $120,000 to almost double what we’re investing on infrastructure," one Trib Talker explained.  "That way we don’t have to raise our taxes.   [City manager Mike] Matthes is already...increasing the fees on all of our utilities." 
 
Still others insist that after finishing unfinished business like the Boone Home and returning some money to thrifty city departments,  the Council return the rest of the surplus to the hard-pressed residents who provided it in the first place.

 
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