The Necessity of Mixed-Income Life in St. Louis

Former Pruitt-Igoe Complex

St. Louis City officials are breathing a little easier as the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency moves forward on plans on what is hoped to revitalize the long neglected area of North City St. Louis.

The complex would bring in well-paid citizens and their business. In time, NGA employees may also move to the area.This isn’t the first time the city officials heralded a federal agency for building a megastructure to rescue North St. Louis — in fact, it’s found in the history books.

It was a complex called Pruitt-Igoe.

Oh yes, that dark cloud looming over the reputation of St. Louis and the Agency of Housing and Urban Development.

Throughout the mid-1950s the complex was built, and in 1965 housed nearly 10 thousand individuals and more than 2 thousand families. Of these families, 99 percent were black. The project was lined with 43 buildings with 11 stories. The red and yellow brick buildings formed the Pruitt Homes and Igoe Apartments, the city’s first public housing project (Porter 1967). And the most notorious.

The project was formed with the highest hopes — public housing to give low-income families not just housing, but the opportunity to rise above their circumstance (Heathcott 2012). What was lost in the city planners’ project plans was the impact of white flight (Porter 1967).

In the 20th century, if African-Americans were financially able to afford to move out of the city and into the suburbs, zoning rules and negative opinions proved to be yet another block to a better and more equal life (Rothstein 2014).

As Caucasians raced to the suburbs, resources in St. Louis city to dwindle creating a desert of opportunity. Hope was nowhere to be found. This ultimately led to crime, poverty and the destruction of the once gleaming project.

Since then, North City continued to be the neglected precincts of St. Louis, and never truly rebounded. The new NGA building complex is hoped be the city’s saving grace. Why is this complex deemed to be a success? Diversity in race and income. What happens if these individuals don’t only work in the community but live beside them in public housing? In the 1970s, the United States decided to look into mixed-income housing (Ellickson 2009).

This concept is an emerging interest in urban development, referred to as mixed income housing. While public housing is typically low-income, this movement would incorporate housing options for multiple income level families. Mixed income housing creates a more stable culture, provides opportunity for economic growth and grows hope. Creating anything less out of fear an inconvenience is unethical. It brings limitations and undue burdens on a community’s potential, and is mostly an effect of systematic racism.

An often overlooked step in ethics is simply talking about the issue with honest intentions to pursue truth. This topic is not popular and brings to light elements of racism in “non-racist” individuals. The project is quickly shot down with the excuse that the middle class would not move into such projects. The lack of discussion is the next part: why?

Why is the middle class hesitant to leave the safety of their sprawling suburb dystopia? Fear. Is the fear of safety exaggerated based on race even when proper precautions are taken?

Moving from the suburbs to an urban public housing project is definitely a change in lifestyle. Is the reluctance of moving stem from the unconscious — and sometimes conscious — belief that Caucasian culture is superior? It could be based on a fear to leave the comfortable for the unknown. But when a decision that could change the course of a community — is comfort a valid reason or just an excuse?

Mixed income housing is an issue of organization and personal integrity. Without both, the mission’s success is compromised.

In “To Change the World”, James Davidson Hunter proposed that in order to create lasting change, the elite and excellent need to be on board. These individuals tend to be outside of the nucleus of the higher brow, but still have the power and influence. Creating communities without these people instantly create a struggle and diminish the chance for success (Hunter 2010).

Part of the reason for the need for the elite’s leadership is to influence the ethical leadership of industries. Organizations such as the NGA have a significant impact on the perception of an area and the likelihood of more organizations and individuals joining the endeavor (Hunter 2010).

If industries support mixed-income housing, infrastructures for a strong community can be made, and others will notice. In return, individuals will take notice and follow (Hunter 2010).

This issue needs to be discussed, but also enacted upon.Throughout the nation, the thought of public housing has been historically frightening to many Caucasian communities — out of fear, disgust and inconvenience, the have-nots were subject to reside in isolated ghettos (Porter 1967).

Today, the government — starting with the Clinton presidency — has taken steps to incorporate the building of resources of the community with building public housing by encouraging voting, money in schools and helping struggling businesses keep or open their business (Salsich 2009).

There is a theory of virtue ethics that brings character above all. It is necessary to develop and live a life and make decisions based on virtues such as courage, compassion, wisdom and temperance. Traits such as greed, selfishness and greed must be avoided. According to this belief, avoidance of less favorable areas is not ethical. Instead, the people should change their actions to be compassionate, thinking ahead, and accepting (Benner 1997).

Another thought is care ethics. This belief places the upmost importance on relationships. Life should focus on building and maintaining relations while strengthening others. If building others up is most important, it also trumps comfort and fear. Humans should live in community and support one another despite background or race (Benner 1997).

The process of mixing incomes in neighborhoods must be careful from the affects of gentrification. If people move into a previously undesired neighborhood and pique the interest of young professionals wanting to be hip, great care must be taken that the neighborhood’s issues are not addressed by picking the perceived bad apples, but address the issues as an orchard (Cheney 2009).

Preserving barriers of the low-income preserve the struggle to achieve eudemonia.

Eudemonia is a concept from the Greek philosopher Aristotle that encourages the importance of a good life and the opportunity to flourish. For these communities, the concept of eudemonia a luxury that can barely be fathomed (Cheney).

If St. Louis would follow the trends, the state and city would develop an incentive program and offer incentives for higher incomes to live in public housing. For the past two decades U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has taken initiatives to place low-income housing in more fluent areas. HUD has also developed funds to give developers a break and low interest rates. States such as Indiana became involved by offering a tax abatement fund for homebuyers (United States of America).

Many of the communities have as little as 10–25 percent of the communities in need of the financial help (Elickson). The projects are seen more successful than traditional public housing units. When available, providing a voucher system (subsidizing rent from private land managers) more success can be seen than projects (Ellickson 2009).

There are some negative effects that sometimes occur from mixed income housing — sometimes the stigma of public housing increases for the lower-income residents. The intense screening and rule enforcement compared to the higher income residents are sometimes seen as insulting and their perception as an “underclass” is still preserved (Mccormick, 2012).

It is imperative that middle class and above address fears and prejudices and become accepting of living among other incomes. The best projects are led by private entities, and governmental incentives are effective. In these communities, the populations must be blended, not separated and just living within the same geographic region. No one should be seen as a less-than.

There are three parties that need to take action to address this issue: the government, the institutions and individuals. The government can provide incentives to developers to invest in less desirable areas and subsidize cost of housing in middle class neighborhoods. The institutions, such as developers, grocery stores and businesses must build an invest to build-up the now low-income neighborhoods, and build a space for all incomes in middleclass neighborhoods. On the personal level, the fear and prejudices must be addressed within. Boundaries must be tested, and be open to new places and new experiences.

It is important that the future and inclusion of low-income residents be addressed. When people from varying races and income levels kept apart, potential of all is squandered, and levels of hate and fear continue to spread. When these people come together, united they rise.


Further Reading

Benner, Patricia. “A Dialogue between Virtue Ethics and Care Ethics.” The Influence of Edmund D. Pellegrino’s Philosophy of Medicine (1997): 47–61. Web.

George Cheney; Daniel J. Lair; Dean Ritz;Brenden E. Kendall. Just a Job?:

Communication, Ethics, and Professional Life (Kindle Location 1259). Kindle Edition.

Ellickson, R. C. (2009). False Promise of the Mixed-Income Housing Project, The UCLA L. Rev., 57, 983.

Heathcott, J. (2012). Planning Note: Pruitt-Igoe and the Critique of Public Housing. Journal of the American Planning Association, 78(4), 450–451 doi:10.1080/01944363.2012.737972

Hunter, J. D. (2010). To change the world: The irony, tragedy, and possibility of Christianity in the late modern world. Oxford University Press.

Mccormick, N. J., Joseph, M. L., & Chaskin, R. J. (2012). The New Stigma of Relocated Public Housing Residents: Challenges to Social Identity in Mixed-Income

Developments. City & Community, 11(3), 285–308. doi:10.1111/j.1540–6040.2012.01411.x

Porter, E., Miller, J., Rainwater, L., & Koestler, F. A. (1967). Pruitt-Igoe: Survival in a Concrete Ghetto. Social Work, 12(4), 3–13.

Rothstein, R. (2014). The making of Ferguson: long before the shooting of Michael Brown, official racial-isolation policies primed Ffderguson for this summer’s events. The American Prospect, (5), 46.

Salsich Jr, P. W. (2011). Does America need public housing. Geo. Mason L. Rev., 19, 689.

United States of America, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Community Planning and Development. (2003). U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Retrieved from http://archives.hud.gov/offices/cpd/affordablehousing/modelguides/200315.cfm