Economic justice

Saint-Louis wants residents to weigh in on economic justice

The St. Louis Development Corporation is asking residents this month to share what they would like to see in an economic justice action plan.

More than 500 people have already completed an online survey launched last week, said Daffney Moore, who leads the city’s agency efforts. She is also Chief of Staff and Director of Equity and Inclusion at SLDC.

“We don’t want to assume we know what people need,” she said. “We can look at the data, but we really want to hear the community’s voice about what resources they would like to see within their community – and if we’re doing something wrong, we want to know about it.”

Moore said the plan will broadly focus on four priority areas for the agency under the new leadership of executive director Neal Richardson. These include workforce development, business empowerment, neighborhood transformation, and equitable and inclusive development.

She said the action plan was part of an overall effort to do more groundwork to incorporate input from community groups, activists and residents. It is intended to lean on the city existing equitable development frameworka nearly 450-page report released just before longtime SLDC executive director Otis Williams retired last year.

Moore said one of the things being explored is creating a fairer model and process for awarding financial incentives to developers. This could include a standard for community benefit agreements, which could give residents more say in what kind of development comes to their neighborhood.

“We want to see North St. Louis grow without displacing residents and making sure everyone has the opportunity to redevelop our hallways and build housing,” Moore said.

St. Louisians active in community development are already weighing in.

This includes Brandon Sterling, Chairman of the Board of Delmar Main Street Initiative, which works with residents and stakeholders to address inequalities along the Delmar Divide. He is also a consultant and works with local nonprofits and grantmakers.

“We want to see development, but we also want to avoid gentrification,” he said. “So we’re looking for a kind of middle ground where a community can benefit from a better quality of life, but not at the expense of its most vulnerable people who are on the move.”

Sterling said a standard process for community benefit agreements could help establish an expectation that in the future developers will have to contribute to affordable housing.

Many reports Detailed ideas for economic development in St. Louis have been commissioned in recent years, but Sterling said he hopes this one will be more digestible for people and include more concrete steps.

SLDC approved $150,000 for contractors to help develop the plan. These include the Ohio-based Council of Development Finance Agencies, St. Louis-based planning firm PGAV, and Erica Henderson, a consultant and former head of the county’s St. Louis Economic Development Partnership.

Moore expects the SLDC to have a draft of the economic justice action plan available to residents for review in January, with the final plan expected to be rolled out in March.

Residents can submit their thoughts by complete a survey of the city by the end of the month.

Follow Corinne on Twitter: @corinnesusan