It’s time to dismantle TIFs as tool of segregation

Molly Metzger, assistant professor at the Brown School


In the words of my Washington University colleague Jason Purnell, St. Louis has been a true “innovator” when it comes to segregation. Purnell and a number of community partners recently released the report “Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide.” The report demonstrated segregation tools did not stop with the racial zoning of the 1910s or the restrictive covenants that followed. One of today’s frontiers for innovation in segregation is the misuse of tax incentives, such as TIF and tax abatement, created to support “blighted” areas.

“Blight” is a fraught term. When most people think of blight, they think of neighborhoods with abandoned homes and storefronts: places truly in need of public and private investment. Unfortunately, what passes for blight in the St. Louis region includes St. Charles ($55 million in TIF for the “Streets of St. Charles”), downtown Clayton ($75 million in TIF for the Centene Corporation), and the Central West End (where the Citizen Park, One Hundred, and Whole Foods/Orion projects sum to more than $40 million in incentives).

These are just a few recent examples of the broader pattern incentive use, in which public investment flows disproportionately into the City’s central corridor and westward from there. How on earth could the truly disinvested parts of our region compete for investment, when the wealthiest corporations in our region are benefiting from tax incentives in the places that are least in need?

Read the full piece in the St. Louis American.

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