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'It's a down payment on the future of our city': St. Louis leaders announce 'Economic Justice Accelerator'

Mayor Tishaura Jones said the city's new programs could help restore blighted portions of St. Louis that have suffered with population loss.

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis leaders announced a new multi-million dollar "Economic Justice Accelerator" to lure private sector donors to fund the race to close the wealth gap and turn the generational tides of high crime and a shrinking population.

"We are creating a new system of how we deploy dollars into marginalized communities," St. Louis Development Corporation (SLDC) Executive Director Neal Richardson said during a Tuesday press conference.

Congresswoman Cori Bush (D-Missouri), who voted to approve the American Rescue Plan Act funds that were infused into the project, said economic justice is about "ensuring that the people who need the help the most get it first."

The city's strategic plan steers support to specific neighborhoods, targeting a racial divide in wealth and income, where Black workers make half what their white counterparts make, and have 10% as much wealth as a white household, according to an 87-page action plan published by SLDC.

"Delivering economic justice for all who live here will make our city more economically competitive while creating change residents can see and feel in their neighborhoods," Mayor Tishaura Jones said. "But this is a team effort, and government cannot shoulder this burden alone. When done in collaboration with our philanthropic, civic and private sector partners, when our visions and actions align, we can truly make a long-lasting difference for generations to come."

SLDC and the Land Reutilization Authority (LRA), the city's land bank, will implement most of the new programs, which have financial backing from big business and the federal government, and other "soft commitments" in place from civic-minded donors.

The city's master plan starts with a million-dollar push from MasterCard. Millions more from the federal government will go to contractors to salvage what they can and tear down what they can't. Ultimately, the goal is to bring a billion dollars into blighted neighborhoods.

"In Detroit, they had over $6 billion of philanthropic capital that was poured into that community," Richardson said. "These are models such as the one that's been created in Detroit that will require a collective effort from the region to tackle these issues of generational poverty and crime in our city."

The SLDC director said he had seen the recent 5 On Your Side series 'Searching for Solutions,' which showcased the Detroit Land Bank's side-lot program, a contractor blitz to knock down blight, and specialized efforts to turn population loss into real estate perks for city residents.

Starting on July 1, St. Louis families who live in qualifying neighborhoods and earning 80% of the Area Median Income or less (roughly $55,000 per year for a married couple filing jointly) will soon qualify for down payment assistance. SLDC has not yet set a cap on how much money individual home buyers can qualify for.

"It's a down payment on the future of our city," Richardson said.

Lance Knuckles with the city's land bank said the Economic Justice Accelerator can also deliver "the transformation of our vacant and dilapidated properties" with a new "roadmap for redevelopment of our city-owned projects."

"We've identified these properties that we really want to get thoughtful and intentional about," Knuckles said.

Small contractors will soon be allowed to apply for work cleaning up the city and knocking down dangerous vacant properties.

"St. Louis cannot succeed together if over half of it is left to fail," Mayor Jones said.

"I think historically we have thought about others coming into the city and making investments on our behalf. In this moment, we're going to do the work and start with ourselves," Knuckles said.

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