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‘Do something productive’: North City residents discuss options for $39 million headed to their neighborhoods

Earlier this month, Mayor Tishaura Jones approved $39 million designated to help small businesses and nonprofits improve economic stability.
Published: May. 18, 2022 at 6:59 PM CDT
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ST. LOUIS (KMOV) - Nearly $40 million will be up for grabs in North St. Louis as the city plans to open its online grant application process on June 1.

Board Bill 82, approved in early May, allocates $37 million to northside corridors to aid small businesses, nonprofits and neighborhoods. $2 million will be set aside for ADA compliance citywide.

Small businesses and nonprofits along the corridors can apply for stabilization and expansion grants to help with things like store expansions, improvements, façade updates and startup costs.

On Monday, News 4 spoke with a group of North City residents about the decline in their neighborhoods, the factors contributing to the issues they face and possible solutions. News 4 also wanted to know how they would like to see the federal relief money spent.

Vacant buildings, of which the city estimates there are more than 9,000, are a top priority.

“Do something productive so it wouldn’t look so horrible because buildings are going to be missing,” said Steve Jones. “It’s going to need something to fill it. Just don’t leave our neighborhoods where there’s a vacant lot here, vacant house here, torn down, it’s empty...vacant house.”

The $37 million can be used for the demolition of vacant properties, which the city hopes will then be shovel ready for a new business, rather than leaving the lots empty.

“The buildings are so raggedy and all open, that brings a lot of crime to the neighborhood too because you’ve got people staying in those places, they’re doing their drugs and all kinds of stuff like that,” said Betty Hudson.

In the budget for fiscal year 2023, which is currently under review, an additional $5 million is assigned for the demolition of vacant buildings.

Trash also remains a problem, some residents said.

“They’re not throwing their trash in trash cans, they toss it anywhere, they’re chaotic because they’re feeling chaotic,” said Quantela Jackson. “Maybe if we can address the way things look, we can kind of begin to peek a little hole into how they’re feeling.”

If the city and participating organizations are able to put a dent in the number of vacant buildings around various neighborhoods, some residents believe pride within the communities will begin to return.

“They’ll start keeping it clean, lawns start being mowed, they’ll say ‘hey, we won’t allow drugs in here,’” said Zachary Woods. “Police have less crime there and start teaching people who are in homes with guns...teaching them how to lock their stuff up.”

When the application for grant funding is released in June, Jones said she is hopeful churches will be included on the list of qualified applicants.

“They left out one important thing, the church,” said Jones. “Our faith in our country, our very country, our faith is the driving force behind what we do.”

Additional resources and programming for children and adults would be a welcome addition, Jackson said. She said she worries about children like her nephew.

“He’s just out, flinging around and I just wish he had something that he could be proud about and he can do and it will get him off the street,” she said. “How about you go hang with your friends and you do something productive?”

“They can learn how to support their kids emotionally, cause just because you’re there, does not mean you’re there,” she said.

Other residents would like to see more money dedicated to helping those with drug addictions in hopes of creating a safer living environment for everyone.

“A lot of people try to go to these programs, they can’t afford them, so it would be good if they could do something like that and that would help the community tremendously,” said Hudson.

According to the city, small businesses and nonprofit organizations that apply for grants to cover a project that involves commercial property demolition for new construction will have 30 percent of costs covered. Those looking into commercial property rehabilitation and improvement can have 50 percent of costs covered.

Further, if the business owner lives in the neighborhood or adjacent, they can receive an additional 15 percent in total project costs in grant funding. Or, if the business owner hires two people from within the neighborhood, they are eligible for one year of salary reimbursement for those employees up to 15 percent of the total project cost.

While the application has not been placed online, the city said to qualify, a small business or nonprofit must fill a gap needed in the professional or health services areas or enhance retail or cultural offerings in the neighborhood.

All together, a qualified applicant could receive up to 65 percent of their total project cost covered by these grants.