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St. Louis public housing complex wins HUD job-training grant

Flanked by Alderwoman Christine Ingrassia and Mayor Francis Slay, Clinton-Peabody Tenant Affairs President Sam Blue celebrates winning the HUD jobs grant on Thursday, April 2, 2015.
Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio

Residents of St. Louis’ Clinton-Peabody housing development will soon have help from the federal government to find good-paying jobs. The near south side public housing complex is the recipient of a $3 million grant.

According to St. Louis Housing Authority executive director Cheryl Lovell, Clinton-Peabody was selected because it fit the requirements of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grant: a housing complex with more than 250 units and a high rate of unemployment.

She said about 30 percent of families living in the complex have a working family member, and the average family income is $7,200 a year.

“The focus is not only to get the non-working families working, but the families that are working to get a better job so that they can support their families better,” Lovell said.

Normally when people living in public housing get a pay raise they have to pay more rent — the federal formula keeps rent at 30 percent of a family’s income. But according to Lovell, this grant allows residents of Clinton-Peabody to earn more without having to pay more for housing, so that there is an incentive for them to find better-paying jobs. The exemption lasts four years; the life of the grant.

“So that gives people not only an incentive to go to work but also allows them to accumulate savings and some family wealth to maybe eventually (become) a homebuyer,” Lovell explained.

As of February, there were 11,400 families on the wait list for public housing in St. Louis. Another 27,000 families were waiting for Section 8 vouchers.

But the Department of Housing and Urban Development is devoting money to jobs despite the wait list because the department has found value in encouraging public housing residents to build wealth, said regional administrator Jennifer Tidwell.

“We are beginning to really think about the folks that are already in our existing housing authorities and try to determine how we can help them wealth-build, and build their families and have education,” Tidwell said.

The St. Louis Housing Authority is partnering with the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE) to implement the grant.

Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Housing units across from a community center in the Clinton-Peabody public housing complex on the near south side of St. Louis.

SLATE Director Michael Holmes said his agency will bring its job services to the residents of Clinton-Peabody, instead of having people come to the office.

“People want to do something, we believe. But what we have to do is say okay let’s get them out of their comfort zone, but keep them in their comfort zone at the same time and grow them out,” Holmes said, adding that his agency is thinking of putting an IT training center at the housing complex.

“We’re going to start new models as much as we can here, but then we’re going to look at what training we need to get them to. And then we’ll provide transportation to get them to the school so they won’t have that responsibility,” he explained.

According to Holmes, the grant will pay for residents to get certified in a field once they know what kind of career they want.   The training will be limited to quick certifications however, and won’t include college degrees unless the individual is already close to graduating.

“Our job is to get them a skill as quickly as possible so they can start earning money,” Holmes said.

Clinton-Peabody residents stand up during the news conference announcing the HUD jobs training grant.
Credit Camille Phillips | St. Louis Public Radio
Clinton-Peabody residents stand up during the news conference announcing the HUD jobs training grant.

Clinton-Peabody resident Sam Blue represents tenants as president of the tenant affairs board. He said the community-centered focus of the grant will allow tenants to support each other through the process.

“It brings hope and opportunity to the Clinton-Peabody,” Blue said, adding that by supporting each other they can navigate the pressure of “no employment, under-employment, domestic violence … a lot of challenges with the children.”

A small crowd of Clinton-Peabody residents joined public officials at a news conference at the public housing complex Thursday afternoon announcing the grant and the job training program.

Follow Camille Phillips on Twitter: @cmpcamille.