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Castro: Promise Zone will encourage 'holistic' collaboration to boost St. Louis

U.S. Housing and Urban Development Secretary Juliàn Castro announced Tuesday that parts of the St. Louis region were designated by his agency as a Promise Zone.

Speaking at the MET Center in Wellston, Castro said that St. Louis was one of eight communities picked for HUD’s program. Among other things, the program gives selected cities greater access to federal money and manpower to redevelop struggling areas.

Castro announced that portions of north St. Louis and north St. Louis County would be encompassed under the Promise Zone. In addition to the northern part of St. Louis the zone includes cities such as Berkeley, Wellston, Ferguson, Jennings, Normandy Pagedale, Pine Lawn and Moline Acres.

Credit Department of Housing and Urban Development
Map of the HUD Promise Zone

“With this announcement, we’re making a simple but bold declaration,” Castro said. “We believe in the St. Louis community. We believe in its people. We believe in its vision. And we believe in its future as well.”

Castro said St. Louis’ policymakers have provided plans for expanding economic development, job training and early childhood education in struggling parts of the region.

“The Promise Zones are about connecting some of the dots that are essential for sparking more opportunity in people’s lives and lifting up the overall quality of life,” Castro said. “[St. Louis and St. Louis County’s] teams are working holistically in education, in health, in housing, in infrastructure to lift up the overall quality of life of residents.”

St. Louis was one of eight communities picked as a Promise Zone out of more than 120 applicants. Both St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and then-St. Louis County Executive Charlie Dooley had told reporters they had applied for the designation during the height of the turmoil in Ferguson.

Promise Zones have priority in application for federal funds that help in “job creation, additional private investment, increased economic activity, improved educational opportunity and reduction in violent crime." In addition, five full-time AmeriCorps VISTA members will be sent in to help the area put its plan into action.

U.S. Rep. Lacy Clay, D-University City, told reporters that the unrest throughout the St. Louis region might have played in role in the federal government’s decision-making.

“Ferguson got everyone’s attention in the federal government,” Clay said. “And now, you’re seeing the same symptoms arise from Baltimore. I’ve been watching Baltimore over the last couple of days. And it’s a tragedy. But it also shows that violence will not produce justice.”

Different result?

Before making his announcement at the MET Center, Castro joined a number of prominent officials – including Clay, St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay and developer Paul McKee – on a bus tour of north St. Louis. 

Before Tuesday's announcement, Castro, Clay and Slay toured the Flance Early Learning Center in north St. Louis.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
Before Tuesday's announcement, Castro, Clay and Slay toured the Flance Early Learning Center in north St. Louis.

There, Castro was shown some of the city’s most distressed neighborhoods – which he says will get a leg up because of the Promise Zones.

The bus also rolled by examples of failed governmental projects, too – including the heavily forested remnants of the Pruitt-Igoe housing complex. That particular project is often held up as an example of the federal government’s failure to cure housing and economic woes.

Asked whether the Promise Zone would achieve a different result, Castro said that President Barack Obama’s administration had made progress in breaking through “silos at the federal government level.”

“Housing is working with education, transportation and health,” Castro said. “And more and more, cities are mirroring that. St. Louis is beginning to work holistically. It’s not just about housing or about jobs or about transportation – it’s all of that. So my hope is that this Promise Zone effort will help usher in a new era of working across those silos to create better outcomes.”

Castro also said, “We’re getting better in public service about measuring outcomes.”

“We’re not just looking at the inputs,” Castro said. “We want to see at the end of the day what is the outcome that you’re getting for the expenditure of resource. And we’re going to be doing that as part of the Promise Zone effort.”

Slay said, “It’s easy to think about a community when you think of it as a small geographic area or a neighbor or even a village.” But he said that he thinks of community “as our region.”

“I think about what it will take for the future of our community, our region to be prosperous, safe and vibrant for everyone who lives, works, prays and plays in what we know as St. Louis,” Slay said. “Today’s announcement brings us one step closer to realizing that prosperous, safe and vibrant region by recognizing that there is a community beyond traditional maps.”

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.