Mo. treasurer wants more homes for mentally ill

Thursday, August 19, 2010

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- State Treasurer Clint Zweifel proposed Wednesday to dedicate a third of Missouri's low-income housing aid to mentally ill residents at risk of being homeless.

But Zweifel will first have to persuade others on the Missouri Housing Development Commission that his proposal both has merit and meets federal guidelines governing tax credits for affordable housing projects.

Zweifel said he hoped his proposal could be incorporated into the housing agency's plan for allocating tax credits in the 2011 fiscal year. But a draft of that plan, which is scheduled to be considered at a Friday meeting, would stop short of what Zweifel is seeking.

The treasurer proposed requiring 33 percent of housing units created each year with the aid of agency funds to provide supportive services for the mentally ill who are at risk of being homeless. He estimated that would amount to about 400 specialized homes funded by $127 million of state and federal tax credits distributed over a 10-year period.

Zweifel, who is member of the housing commission, said at a Capitol news conference that Missouri has a moral obligation to reduce homelessness and help the mentally ill. He cited a January 2007 survey by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that found 6,231 homeless people in Missouri, including 1,122 who were chronically homeless. Zweifel said many of those had mental health problems.

His housing proposal "begins to address this cruel cycle of neglect for those who suffer from mental illness," Zweifel said.

The 2011 housing plan on Friday's commission agenda would set a goal of approving tax credit for just two "special-needs housing" developments for people who are physically, emotionally or mentally impaired, homeless or are exiting the foster care system.

Housing commission chairman Jeffrey Bay, a recent appointee, said Wednesday that he didn't have enough information about Zweifel's proposal to decide whether to support it and didn't expect Zweifel's idea to be resolved at this week's meeting.

"I am not aware that the staff has investigated it adequately and fully to know all of the ramifications of it," Bay said.

Zweifel's proposal has the support of various organizations that represent the mentally ill. Advocates for the mentally ill say it is difficult for people to recover without the comforts of a home, even if they have been prescribed medication.

"It's very hard to recover from a Salvation Army shelter or living under a bridge," said Cynthia Keele, executive director of the Missouri chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

The low-income housing program is one of several dozen tax credits in Missouri for which Gov. Jay Nixon's administration has slowed down the evaluation and approval of applications. Nixon is hoping to save money in a cash-strapped state budget by delaying the issuance of tax credits while also ensuring they are going to projects that spur an economic return.

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