WELLSTON — A Louisiana developer is partnering with the city to rehab nearly 200 public housing units that 18 months ago seemed destined for the wrecking ball.
Wellston Mayor Nathaniel Griffin announced the selection of BGC Advantage, of Ruston, Louisiana, in an email to area officials Monday, writing that BGC’s commitment to eventually hand over ownership of the public housing to a new city-controlled nonprofit persuaded him.
“Because BGC has so clearly shown it is willing to keep Wellston as an equal partner throughout the development process, I am sure this selection is the right choice for Wellston and that diversity, equity, and inclusion will be priorities in this redevelopment,” Griffin wrote.
The fate of the 186 public housing units scattered throughout the low-income, inner-ring suburb became a cause célèbre among housing advocates and local politicians last year.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which managed the units for over 20 years after taking them over from Wellston Housing Authority for poor governance and property conditions, in late 2018 moved to tear down the units that once housed as much as a fifth of the city’s just more than 2,000 residents. It would have given the residents housing vouchers to find other apartments in the market.
The plan appeared all but final until St. Louis County Executive Sam Page, who took office unexpectedly following the resignation of former Executive Steve Stenger for bribery, refused to sign off. HUD agreed to let Wellston and other local officials try to find a developer to rehab the units, which had deteriorated over the years. The Housing Authority of St. Louis County, which is their current owner, issued a request for proposals to rehab the properties earlier this year.
Griffin said BGC will partner with a soon-to-be-incorporated nonprofit controlled by Wellston, granting the nonprofit 30% equity in the housing development and splitting the development fee, something he said the other two bidders did not explicitly offer. After 15 years, BGC will turn over the real estate to the Wellston nonprofit, Griffin said, adding that the firm sees “Wellston as a partner.”
“As everyone knows, Wellston hasn’t been a partner at the table for over 50 years,” he said.
BGC has experience working with public housing agencies and nonprofits.
Only about 43 units of the Wellston housing remain occupied, down from about 131 at the beginning of the year. HUD’s January agreement to not demolish the housing also gave residents vouchers to use on the open market, and many families have since moved out because of the conditions at some of the units. Another 25 families are looking for new housing, according to the county housing authority.
Griffin said many of the residents would consider coming back “once the units are rehabbed and remodeled.”
BGC next plans to apply to the Missouri Housing Development Commission for low-income housing tax credits to help finance the rehab of the housing. Applications for those credits are due by the end of October.
The other two bidders were local firms — Lewis McKinney’s LMAC Holdings and a team led by Kevin Buchek of Roanoke Construction, according to the St. Louis County Councilwoman who represents the area, Rita Heard Days, D-1st District. She said she had some reservations that a local firm wasn’t tapped for the project.
”I don’t know anything about them,” she said of BGC.
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