“The opposite of poverty is not wealth. In too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice."
Equal Justice Initiative
Correcting Generations of Disinvestment
One key aspect of serving justice is to identify past mistakes and acknowledge their impacts. There were many intentionally discriminatory policies and programs carried out during the twentieth century, but the one that is most frequently cited, particularly in St. Louis, is the use of intentional “redlining” policies by private lending institutions and federal government agencies. This practice, often associated with maps created by the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation in the late 1930s, encouraged lending in predominantly white neighborhoods and marked non-white neighborhoods as “hazardous” and undesirable.
Racially motivated language and policies encouraging discriminatory housing and lending practices are well-documented, including in the Federal Housing Administration’s Underwriting Manual (1936). The manual laid out underwriting principles related to establishing barriers, both natural and physical, to protect against “adverse influences” from “industrial uses, lower-class occupancy, and inharmonious racial groups.” The manual also stated that it is virtually impossible to “induce a higher social class” once the character of the neighborhood is established. These policies, and many others, were unapologetically racist and had massive implications for St. Louis and its predominantly Black neighborhoods.
The racial disparities caused by these systems continue to exist in large parts of St. Louis, particularly impacting Black communities and other communities of color. Moving forward, achieving economic justice will require the same intentionality that those racist policies utilized, bringing racial equity, economic development, and investment to North St. Louis and historically Black neighborhoods.
Working to Repair Impacts of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic harmed and continues to burden families in St. Louis, particularly those living in areas that saw historic disinvestment and are home to the majority of St. Louis’ Black residents. Hundreds of years of harm were only amplified during the pandemic, furthering the divide between access to success and economic opportunity in communities in St. Louis.
Qualified Census Tracts are often used to identify areas of need at a highly localized level. They must have 50% or more households with 60% of the Area median Gross Income or a poverty rate of 25% or more. These indicators illustrate why families and individuals within parts of St. Louis were especially vulnerable to the negative impacts of the pandemic and require the deployment of additional resources and continued investment.
“It is apparent that in our current economy not everyone benefits equally from economic prosperity. The wealth resulting from growth in jobs, businesses, and real estate development is not evenly distributed in our society and people of color bear the brunt of economic downturns.“
International Economic Development Council
Economic Justice Index
To begin to understand where economic justice is needed in St. Louis, the Economic Justice Index was created. The Economic Justice Index is made up of a variety of indicators that seek to measure needs and opportunities.
INDICATORS OF NEED:
Was the area “redlined” according to the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation maps?
Does the area contain a high number of unoccupied lots?
Is the unemployment rate high?
Are the residents predominantly Black?
Is the area in a HUD Qualified Census Tract?
INDICATORS OF OPPORTUNITY:
Is there a Commercial Corridor with ongoing construction activity?
Is there an Opportunity Zone and/or Historic District?
Are Opportunity Sites present?
Does the area contain grassroots organizations like a Community Development Corporation?
Is there an existing Special Business District, Community Improvement District, Tax Increment Financing District, or Transportation Development District?
It is recommended that SLDC concentrate its efforts in EJI-1 and EJI-2, offering incentives, workforce development opportunities, and support for local organizations. Additional recommendations for these areas are provided throughout the Action Plan.
As the Economic Justice Index Map depicts, these areas are concentrated in North St. Louis primarily west of Interstate 70 and east of Union Blvd both north and south of Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. The concentrations, shown in yellow and noted as EJI-1, are primarily in the neighborhoods immediately north of Downtown including Columbus Square, St. Louis Place, Old North, and Hyde Park neighborhoods and those that line Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd. in the Jeff Vanderlou, Vandeventer, The Ville, Greater Ville, Lewis Place, Kingshighway East, Kingshighway West, Fountain Park, Academy, Hamilton Heights, and parts of the West End neighborhood. Other pockets falling in EJI-1 or EJI-2 on the Economic Justice Index noting high need and opportunity are located in South St. Louis in Gravois Park, Dutchtown, and Marine Villa. These areas share many of the same characteristics as those of high need in North St. Louis and should also be priority focus areas for SLDC.