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Public housing in East St. Louis to get $26 million upgrade over next 5 years

Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Forest Village is among the East St. Louis public housing complexes in for renovations.

The East St. Louis Housing Authority — the city’s biggest landlord — has started work on a $26 million expansion and modernization plan.

The five-year plan, which has been approved and primarily funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, includes the city's eight complexes.

“It's time for our people to be in the 21st century and to live in better-looking units,” said Angela Russell-Perry, the housing authority’s interim executive director.

She said improving the public options will help grow East St. Louis and help those struggling with generational poverty.

Of the 2,203 people living in public housing, nearly 77% of the occupants are listed as extremely low income, meaning their household income is less than or equal to 30% of the area’s median income. All who live there make less than $9,000 per year, Russell-Perry said.

The improvements, she said, will boost the residents’ quality of life and improve the way they see themselves.

“When you live in something nice, you feel good about yourself,” she said. “I’m just trying to make people feel good about themselves, so they can be good stewards and live a better life.”

Construction is underway at nine homes scattered on the west side of town. In all, the housing authority will spend more than $4 million to replace the drywall, upgrade the bathrooms and put in new flooring and cabinets.

These scattered houses were already vacant, so no one needed to be moved, Russell-Perry said.

Another grouping of homes north, near the city’s border with Washington Park and Fairmont City, will begin renovation in the next 60 days.

The housing authority will need to relocate six residents of Forest Village before replacing the flooring, lighting and cabinets, Russell-Perry said. The nearby Roosevelt Homes will begin its rehab next year. Between the two, the housing authority will spend nearly $3.4 million.

The housing authority also wants to do rehab work at two of its bigger facilities, John Robinson and John DeShields. They would get a combined $2.6 million in improvements. Russell-Perry would also like to rehab the Samuel Gompers apartments. However, work on all three will require additional funding, she said.

Last year, the East St. Louis Housing Authority was a finalist for HUD’s Choice Neighborhood Grant but was not selected. Russell-Perry said HUD staff told her East St. Louis’ reputation and lack of philanthropic investment from the community were among the reasons the authority was not selected.

“The Choice Neighborhoods Program is a competitive grant program,” a HUD spokesperson said. “While the ESLHA application was not funded, ESLHA may resubmit an application in future years.”

To make the wanted changes at Gompers, Russell-Perry said, the housing authority plans to reapply this year for the Choice Neighborhood Grant. For Robinson and Deshields, the authority may pursue a different grant.

Rhonda Lockett, the housing authority’s finance director, said the housing authority hopes the approved renovations will help make people want to live there and become more self-sufficient.

“We want to bring this area up to a place where people want to live,” Lockett said.

Will Bauer is the Metro East reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.