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St. Louis boasts success with programs funded by federal community development grants

The Harambee Youth Training program, which teaches kids tuckpointing skills, received a HUD-funded community development block grant from the St. Louis city's community development administration in 2014.
Courtesy Harambee Youth Training Program
The Harambee Youth Training program, which teaches kids tuckpointing skills, received a HUD-funded community development block grant from the St. Louis city's community development administration in 2014.

St. Louis highlighted accomplishments this week that it made using millions in federal grant money. These include funding 13 youth programs, developing about 325 new or rehabbed housing units, and hosting other programs for low to moderate income residents last year.

The city's Community Development Administrationspent part of this week taking representatives of local and federal officials on a tour of the programs funded by community development block grants and other monies from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. It's part of National Community Development Week.

“It is incumbent upon those of us in this field who are managing this money to let our federal government (and) HUD as well as our congressmen, our senators, know what good is coming out of these funds, what it means to their constituents, and in that way we would be enable to maintain the funding or even increase it,” said Fred Wessels, executive director of the city’s CDA.

That’s especially important given what Wessels said has been a decrease in funding from 15 years ago, when the city received $28 million in community development block grants compared with only $16.5 million this year. Wessels said more work could be done to help low- and moderate-income residents with more funding.

“In the meantime, it’s incumbent upon us in the city in these positions to make sure we leverage the funds as efficiently as possible to get the biggest bang for the buck; and that’s what we’re doing now,” he said.

An example of that is the city’s revamping the Healthy Home Repair Program. Once administered by at least four agencies throughout the city, it’s now under the purview of the CDA. Wessels said that cut administrative costs significantly while increasing the number of people served by 22 percent.

“We closed 223 loans in 2014 for $2.5 million, and that essentially means that those folks, many of whom would not have been able to stay in their homes, can stay in a lead-free home without any building code violations, so we’re very proud of that,” he said.

Among the projects funded with HUD grants, Wessels highlighted:

  • the Harambee Youth Training Program, which received $100,000. Established 10 years ago, this program gives kids hands-on tuckpointing training. Wessels said it has "given young folks jobs, but it’s also primarily given them job training, so they can go out on their own and work for somebody or start their own business.
  • creating about 325 new and rehabbed housing units for low to moderate income residents using about $7.8 million in federal "gap financing," to leverage $67.8 million in total development costs. Wessels said these housing projects indirectly created construction jobs in the community, such as tuckpointing work kids learned in the aforementioned program.
  • the Innovative Concept Academy. Started in 2009 by a local judge, the academy provides a strict and demanding “boot-camp type program” for students who have been kicked out of St. Louis Public Schools. Wessels notes the program is being used as a model in other communities, given it helped "hundreds of kids who did not have much hope for the future, and it has enabled them to graduate from high school and many go on to college."
  • the city’s expanded recreation program that’s offering more hours for kids to be “off the street and under supervision” through its recreation centers and other programs.
  • a $2.5 million HUD lead hazard reduction grant, making St. Louis one of only 13 cities to get such a grant.
  • using a data-drive competitive process to fund $3.2 million in grants for 47 agencies, including 23 new ones, that serve low- and moderate-income people.

Yesterday the city held a resource fair in the City Hall rotunda, featuring 30 of the agencies financed through the federal funds.