WELLSTON — U.S. Rep. William Lacy Clay, St. Louis County Executive Sam Page and Wellston Mayor Nate Griffin joined residents here Friday to celebrate a recently announced $30 million deal to renovate a long-troubled public housing complex that at one time faced demolition.
The city announced Aug. 31 that a Louisiana developer will partner with Wellston to rehab 186 of the 200 public housing units scattered throughout the low-income, inner-ring suburb.
“No one should be forced to leave a community they love,” said Flora Mix, president of the Wellston Tenant Association, at the main housing complex at 6218 Irving Avenue.
Mix, a longtime resident, said she hopes renovations will encourage further development in the town, once a thriving industrial and commercial district in the mid-20th century.
“Wellston needs investment,” she said, “not demolition.”
Renovations, which are expected to begin next year, mean remaining residents won’t be forced to relocate in a market where safe, affordable housing is hard to find, Griffin said.
BGC Advantage, the developer, was selected from three competitors because it offered to hire minority workers to rehab the housing units, grant a new city-controlled nonprofit 30% equity in the development and give the nonprofit half of the development fee, Griffin said Friday. After 15 years, BGC will give control of the facility to the nonprofit, he said.
“It’s a win-win for everybody,” he said.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development seized control of the complex from the Wellston Housing Authority in 1996 amid reports of mismanagement and poor living conditions. In 2018, HUD moved to demolish it and give residents vouchers to find private housing elsewhere, after President Donald Trump’s administration accelerated cuts to federal funding for public housing projects.
Only about 43 units of the Wellston housing remain occupied, down from about 131 at the beginning of the year. HUD’s January agreement to not demolish the housing also gave residents vouchers to use on the open market, and many families have since moved out because of the conditions at some of the units.
Clay used his role as chairman of the House subcommittee on Housing, Community Development and Insurance to appeal to HUD Secretary Ben Carson to hear officials’ alternative to demolition, he said Friday. The congressman recalled visiting the town as a child with his family to shop at businesses on what was then Easton Avenue, later renamed Dr. Martin Luther King Drive.
“Those days can return,” Clay said.
The 10-term congressman was unseated in the Aug. 4 Democratic primary by activist and nurse Cori Bush, whose upset victory toppled a 52-year hold on the seat by Clay and his father, civil rights activist Bill Clay.
Clay said after the news conference Friday that he will retire from public life after finishing his term in January.
“I was 27 years old when I first won elected office in this community,” said Clay, 64. “I’m looking forward to my private life, and to just enjoying it with my family.”
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