From the Field

Segregation and a Path Forward to Inclusion in St. Louis

Henry S. Webber, Executive Vice Chancellor & Chief Administrative Officer and Professor of Practice at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work and the School of Architecture & Urban Design at Washington University in St. Louis

The original version of this article was published on Washington University in St. Louis’ website.

Editor’s note: Segregation and a Path Forward to Inclusion in St. Louis is adapted from an address given during Facing Segregation: Building Strategies in Every Neighborhood, the 2019 annual conference of the Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council, on April 12, 2019, at Central Baptist Church, St. Louis, Missouri. This Perspective is presented here through a partnership between the Center for Social Development and the council.

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A little over 50 years ago, America declared war on segregation. We’ve learned much during that time. We are now very clear about the negative effects of segregation on those who live in low-income neighborhoods of highly concentrated poverty. In the 1950s and 1960s, we believed that segregation was bad for kids. Now, it is an established fact.

The policy tools available to fight segregation are much better than they were 50 years ago. We now know how to implement policies like inclusionary zoning, how to design community land trusts, and how to ensure fair housing. We have not solved all of the problems of policy design. We need much better tools to promote equitable development in very disadvantaged communities, but we have made progress.

Unfortunately, we have also learned that human psychology makes segregation difficult to solve. As my colleague Jason Purnell notes, we are hard wired to form tribes and to be more comfortable with those like us. We all need to work against our prejudices.

The bad news is that, despite knowing more about segregation now, including that segregation is wrong for America, we have made much less progress in reducing segregation than we would hope and want. We increasingly live in areas where everyone is much like us.

There are many reasons for this lack of progress. Federal public policy has promoted segregation, our own preference to live near people like us is a challenge, and local control of land use, an American norm, makes reform difficult. Land use decisions in the United States are, in almost all cases, made by local communities, regardless of the greater good. Suburban communities across the nation can and do set minimum lot sizes that only allow the building of single-family homes. These are often the communities that also tend to have the best school districts. The result is very little affordable housing and continued segregation of educational opportunity.

But the real problem is public will. We and our allies have not done our job of moving public opinion, nor have we done the political work needed. I have been involved in public policy issues for over 30 years. What I have painfully learned is that politics is more important than policy because, without good politics, there is no room for good policy. National Section 8 policy is made by Congress and the executive branch of the U.S. government. Elections and advocacy determine these decisions. The decision on whether St. Louis City has inclusionary zoning is made by the city’s Board of Aldermen. They work for us.

In stressing how much politics matter, I do not suggest that deciding what to do is easy. People with strong social values and great competence will disagree. Choosing the best tactical approach to engagement is hard. But it is what we must do.

I have one request for all of us today: that we ask three questions about all public policy proposals:

  1. Does the proposed policy reduce segregation?

  2. If the policy does not reduce segregation, can it be revised to reduce segregation?

  3. What can I do to make the proposals I believe in become a reality?

I am realistic; sometimes there will be good reasons to support proposals that do not reduce segregation; reducing segregation cannot be our only goal, but the question should always be asked.

We need to face facts: The St. Louis region has not achieved what it should have achieved in the last 50 years.

We each have our own ways to define success. My criteria for regional success are growth in population, growth in per-capita income, and reductions in the Black–White income gap. On all of these criteria, we are behind most large American cities. We are not at the bottom, but we are below the mean.

But we have made some progress in the last decade. The Cortex Innovation District has become a national model, and the Central Corridor of the City of St. Louis has strengthened considerably. LaunchCode and programs like it are opening the door of the new economy to diverse populations, and we have focused on important and productive ways to advance racial equity. But we are still not where we need to be.

Let me end with a dream for St. Louis. We can move mountains if we, all of us, decide that is what we must do. What if St. Louis dedicated itself to becoming the national model for inclusive growth, growth that benefits all of us: White, Black, and Brown, rich and poor? What if the region put the same efforts into this that we put into building sports stadiums or the interstate highway system? Let us commit together to a nation without segregation and a city of equal opportunity.


Henry (Hank) Webber is Executive Vice Chancellor and Chief Administrative Officer and a Professor of Practice at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work and the School of Architecture and Urban Design at Washington University in St. Louis.

Mr. Webber oversees a wide variety of administrative and external affairs functions including on and off campus University real estate and facilities, human resources, University operations, information technology and security, with combined operating and capital budgets of over $500M annually and over 1,600 University and contracted staff.  He has joint responsibility with the Provost for information technology and the Chancellor for external affairs.  He also chairs the University’s administrative cabinet.

Since coming to Washington University in 2008, Mr. Webber has led the development of the University’s real estate and sustainability master plans, long-term housing strategy and leads, along with the Provost and Chief Financial Officer, the University budget process. He lead “Campus Next: Enhancing the East End of the Danforth Campus,” the largest capital project in the history of Washington University.  He has played a key role in the development of CORTEX, a 200-acre urban biotech redevelopment effort with 6,000 jobs and over 400 companies.

Outside of his administrative functions at the University, he is Chair of the Board of Directors of Invest STL, the St. Louis region’s community development effort,  the Washington University Medical Center Redevelopment Corporation and CORTEX and on the Boards of Directors of The Downtown Partnership, Provident, RISE, and the Jewish Federation of St. Louis.

Mr. Webber obtained has a Master's degree in Public Policy from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government.


Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

We invite readers to contribute to the civic conversation about community development in St. Louis by writing an op-ed for the Community Builders Exchange. Op-eds should be short (400-700 words) and provocative. If you have an idea for an op-ed, contact Jenny Connelly-Bowen at

Refugee Resettlement and Community Building Go Hand-in-Hand

Diego Abente, President, International Institute Community Development Corporation

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The United Nations High Commission on Refugees estimates that more than 70 million people are currently forcibly displaced. Today, there are 25.9 million refugees (up from 22.5 million in 2016) who have fled their homelands due to a well-founded fear of persecution; are vetted; and have, in some cases, waited decades for a bona fide resettlement opportunity.

In 2016, the White House administration, recognizing the unprecedented global humanitarian crises the world faced, increased the refugee resettlement ceiling to 115,000. Many of the folks who arrived in the U.S. thanks to this increase are now contributing to our economy as loyal employees and budding entrepreneurs, and helping our communities grow stronger as engaged neighbors and close friends.

The refugee crisis is on a world-wide scale, but the contributions refugees make are local and significant. The International Institute of St. Louis, our region’s leading refugee resettlement organization, has helped more than 24,000 families restart their lives here. These proud new Americans are doing their part to move our region forward and helping our community thrive. They are exemplary entrepreneurs, hardworking employees, professors, doctors, and community members. They strengthen our neighborhoods and make St. Louis a better place to live. Data from the St. Louis Regional Chamber shows that the 600 refugee and immigrant-owned businesses we have helped to start or expand since 1999 have contributed to more than $180 million in positive regional economic impact. In addition, in 2017 alone, refugee job placements by the International Institute resulted in $45 million in labor income and $250 million in economic output.

Unfortunately, these important contributions appear to have been overlooked by the current White House administration, which reduced the annual refugee resettlement cap to 45,000 in 2018 and to 30,000 in 2019. These cuts in resettlement numbers have put the lives of thousands of vulnerable people around the world at risk, including religious and ethnic minorities, Afghan and Iraqi allies, and victims of torture. 

The administration is now in the process of setting refugee admissions for 2020 and early reports suggest the administration will propose effectively ending the refugee program by setting the number of refugees admitted to zero.

This is a mistake. Refugees share with us the most important of our cultural values: love of country and family; hope for a better life for our children; desire for a home and a community where we can grow up free and safe. Supporting the refugee program strengthens these values and secures America for future generations.

The International Institute stands strong with other resettlement agencies across the nation, elected officials, and concerned community members in opposition to any further reductions in refugee resettlement. We urge the administration to set a robust resettlement goal. Our economy is strengthened by the presence of refugee communities. Our neighborhoods are more vibrant and resilient when many stories, perspectives, and life experiences are gathered around our shared tables. Our national security is heightened by honoring our international obligations. Our foreign policy options are broadened with resettlement as a tool. The ceiling for refugee admissions should be raised.

We hope that St. Louisans will raise their voices for the voiceless and advocate for the preservation of the U.S.'s time-tested humanitarian refugee resettlement program.


Diego Abente is Vice President of Economic Development of the International Institute and President of the International Institute CDC. In his capacities with the Institute he plans, monitors and evaluates the agency’s economic development services, including a micro-lending fund, small business development, Individual Development Accounts, and an urban farm.

Diego also leads the International Institute Business Solutions Center (IIBSC), which provides interpretation and translation services, as well as cultural competency trainings. Diego regularly speaks to and trains community members in the corporate, non-profit, and government space to identify, learn from, and leverage the rich cultural diversity of our society.

Diego has a degree in Law, a Masters in Governance and International Development, and an Executive Masters in Business Administration from Washington University in St. Louis. Prior to joining IISTL, he spent several years managing non-profit programs in Africa and Washington D.C.


Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

We invite readers to contribute to the civic conversation about community development in St. Louis by writing an op-ed for the Community Builders Exchange. Op-eds should be short (400-700 words) and provocative. If you have an idea for an op-ed, contact Jenny Connelly-Bowen at

Hard-to-Count Neighborhoods: Let's Do Something!

Katie Kaufmann, Director, Ready By 21 St. Louis

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Census 2020 is back in the news with the recent Supreme Court ruling on the potential inclusion of a citizenship question. We’re still nine months away from the official start of the count in April 2020, but it’s not too early to start planning for how we can really make this census work for the region.

Based on census estimates, 43% of residents of the City of St. Louis live in “hard-to-count” neighborhoods, defined as census tracts where almost a quarter or more households did not mail back their census questionnaires in 2010 and required an in-person visit during the “nonresponse follow-up operation,” during which census workers go door-to-door. The majority of these hard-to-count neighborhoods are north of Delmar and are home to residents who are predominantly African-American and have suffered decades of disinvestment in their neighborhoods.

Census 2020 offers an opportunity to do something about disinvestment in communities and the people who live in them. One tangible investment in our future that Census 2020 will impact is child wellbeing, which in Missouri is largely funded by the federal government. The census data will help allocate over $800 billion per year in federal funds. Many of those funds support programs that both serve children and benefit communities as a whole, including:

  • Health insurance programs like Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance program

  • Education programs like Title I funding to schools in low-income communities and IDEA special education funding for children with disabilities

  • Programs that keep children safe, like foster care

  • Programs that help children learn while their parents work by helping to pay for quality child care and after school programs

Compounding the challenges of counting some specific neighborhoods, children are at risk of being missed in census counts everywhere: in 2010, an estimated one in five children were missed in the census count because their family did not return the form, and an estimated four in five children lived in families that returned the form but didn’t include the young child on it. While a complete count won’t solve issues related to community disinvestment on its own, a complete count will ensure that we don’t leave any potential federal dollars “on the table.” These funds have real implications for St. Louis residents’ access to health and education and our community’s stability.

It’s important for advocates to know that children are more likely to be missed in a census if:

  • They live in large and complex households.

  • They live with single parents or young parents between the ages of 18-29.

  • They are not the biological or adopted child of the householder.

  • They live with their grandparents, aunts and uncles, or other family members.

  • They live in families that do not speak English or their family includes immigrants.

  • They live in poor families.

  • Their families rent rather than own their home.

Some adults may not realize that babies, toddlers, and young children are supposed to be included in the Census.

Let’s make sure in 2020 we Count All Kids in Missouri. As an advocate for children and communities, you can help by:

  • Working with other advocates to engage with Governor Parson’s Complete Count Committee and make sure they pay special attention to counting young children and hard to count neighborhoods like North St. Louis City.

  • Sign up to learn when outreach materials become available, then download and distribute them to families and individuals you work with.

  • Share #CountAllKids social media materials when they become available to increase outreach.

  • Since Census 2020 will be the first to encourage online responses, offer opportunities for families or individuals you work with to respond to the Census using your organization’s internet access.

We each have a role to play to ensuring that our region’s population is accurately counted, allowing all St. Louisans access to the full complement of resources to which we are entitled by the federal government. Our kids, our neighborhoods, and our region need us all to pull together on this.


Katie Kaufmann is the Director of Ready by 21 St. Louis, a collective impact initiative focused on aligning efforts and improving outcomes for children and youth across St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County. Katie is a product of public K-12 education and began her career as a middle school math teacher in St. Louis City. Prior to Ready by 21 St. Louis, Katie worked in the non-profit world looking at systemic issues of quality and access to opportunities. Katie earned her BA in American Studies and Math from Wells College in Aurora, NY and has certificates in 5-9 Math and Nonprofit Leadership and Management from UMSL. Katie is a wife and mother to a three-year-old and a soon-to-be born baby, who will both be counted in the 2020 census, and serves as an elected member of the Maplewood Richmond Heights School Board.


Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

We invite readers to contribute to the civic conversation about community development in St. Louis by writing an op-ed for the Community Builders Exchange. Op-eds should be short (400-700 words) and provocative. If you have an idea for an op-ed, contact Jenny Connelly-Bowen at

Open letter on Wellston housing crisis: St. Louis must break the cycle of systemic neglect and disinvestment

David Dwight IV, Lead Strategy Catalyst at Forward Through Ferguson

Karishma Furtado, Research & Data Catalyst at Forward Through Ferguson

This column was originally published on Medium.

David Dwight

David Dwight

The proposed demolition of the Wellston Housing Authority, a public housing development that serves almost entirely Black St. Louisans, paired with an insufficient plan for maintaining the Wellston community repeats a troubling pattern of disinvestment in historic Black neighborhoods. We call on HUD to Radically Listen to the communities and individuals that will be devastated by those actions, apply a Racial Equity Lens to its plans, and lean into its position as a key Policy and Systems actor with the potential to help heal and restore a community as opposed to throwing it away.

Karishma Furtado

Karishma Furtado

Across the last century, St. Louis has regrettably seen the destruction and redevelopment of many historic Black neighborhoods including Mill Creek Valley, Evans-Howard Place, Pershing-Waterman, Clayton, and Kinloch. Often, the rationales given to the communities pointed to the substandard condition of the existing housing, the potential for urban renewal, and the need for new infrastructure. These rationales ignore the history of neglect and disinvestment by governmental, financial, and private institutions that have created the substandard conditions. The proposed actions by HUD place Wellston dangerously on the edge of joining this list of decimated Black neighborhoods.

A principle of the Ferguson Commission that we feel is critical to all of our work is Radical Listening. This consists of taking the time to hear what the communities we intend to serve have to say, trusting them to be the experts on their experiences, and then formulating plans and taking action accordingly. It is clear: the community of Wellston was not properly consulted and does not want this course of action. They do not want to fall prey to the toxic pattern of discarding Black communities in the name of urban renewal intended to benefit others. They want to enjoy the baseline of investment and optimism that so many other neighborhoods in our region experience and expect.

The Ferguson Commission—after their comprehensive, regional study, which included over 3,000 St. Louis community members—next encourages us to judiciously apply a Racial Equity Lens. This means asking ourselves for any given action, program, or policy being considered:

  • Whom does this benefit?

  • Will this differentially impact racial and ethnic groups?

  • And, what is missing that will intentionally decrease or eliminate racial disparities?

The answers to these questions undoubtedly show that the destruction of the Wellston Housing Authority would be a shock felt almost entirely by a low-income Black community. 99% of Wellston is Black compared with 24% of St. Louis County. The disparate impact is clear and egregious.

The third principle of the Commission calls on us to recognize the historical treatment of Black neighborhoods in our solutions by prioritizing a Policy and Systems Approach. This technique enables us to understand how disparate outcomes are the product of the way our institutions, practices, policies, and laws were built and how they continue to impact community health today. It calls us to reach beyond reaction to symptoms—a neglected public housing complex—and to instead implement solutions that address the root causes of inequities.

This means situating the lack of opportunities to thrive for so many of our Black neighbors and communities—reflected in many indicators of access and wellbeing—within the broader context of local, state, and national systems and policies that not only passively fail to serve them but actively damage them. It also means acknowledging that weakening neighborhoods and destroying low-income housing when affordable housing is already exceedingly scarce goes on to have profound impacts across the lives of those whose homes and communities are lost. Dr. Jason Purnell of Health Equity Works at Washington University in St. Louis reminds us of this saying, a child who can’t hear, can’t see, hasn’t slept, can’t breathe, has been traumatized, hasn’t eaten, and doesn’t know where they’re going to sleep, doesn’t have the opportunity to learn. The planned actions of HUD will have profound and adverse ripple effects across the lives of those displaced.

Similarly, when tasked with examining the underlying causes of the civil unrest after the death of Michael Brown, the Ferguson Commission identified a long-standing history of disinvestment in Black communities as one of many interrelated factors that feed our persistent racial disparities across most life outcomes. It called for investment in more and better affordable housing and policy-based commitments to help predominantly Black neighborhoods thrive.

Forward Through Ferguson lends its voice to those calling for the proposed demolition of the Wellston Housing Authority to halt until HUD and local partners have taken the vital first steps to apply a Racial Equity Lens, Radically Listen to affected community members, and commit to a Systems and Policy approach. We must ensure that Wellston does not join the list of Black St. Louis neighborhoods lost to history due to systemic neglect and redevelopment.

*Note: This letter was sent to HUD and the Housing Authority of St. Louis County. It was submitted during the public comment period; a decision was later made Thursday, May 23rd to move forward with the “demolition and disposition” plan.


David Dwight IV serves as Lead Strategy Catalyst and Karishma Furtado serves as Research & Data Catalyst with Forward Through Ferguson.


Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

We invite readers to contribute to the civic conversation about community development in St. Louis by writing an op-ed for the Community Builders Exchange. Op-eds should be short (400-700 words) and provocative. If you have an idea for an op-ed, contact Todd Swanstrom at

Don’t relocate Wellston’s public housing tenants—develop an alternative plan using selective rehab and nonprofit ownership

Jim Roos, former Executive Director of Sanctuary in the Ordinary

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For six months, HUD and St. Louis County Housing Authority need to reconsider their plan to issue Section 8 vouchers and relocate 500 people from 201 public housing units in Wellston.

Relocating all Wellston tenants will ultimately be no improvement for most tenants. We have seen this approach fail in other neighborhoods before.

For example, in 2003 St. Louis City allowed a developer to use eminent domain to take and demolish six entire blocks just north of Interstate 44, west of 39th Street. The area was then called McRee Town and is now called Botanical Heights. Neighborhood Enterprises managed 40 buildings with 120 rental units in the general area. Half of them were taken and demolished. The area was distressed, but we knew it was recovering: between 1995 and 2000 our vacancy list had dropped from over 15 to almost zero, and the average rent for 3 and 4 room apartments had increased from $175 to $225.

Some relocated tenants were moved to Ferguson, Wellston, and other distressed areas, which made their situations worse. By contrast, one tenant who lived in a section of McRee that was not taken called me last month to say her husband was dying. She said they had rented from us for 31 years. They had raised all their children in our apartments, and she was grateful for the housing and for the relationship. I visited her husband in the hospital and attended his funeral.

When units are vacated with no immediate plan to repair and re-rent, they will be vandalized, demolished, and forever lost as existing or potentially decent lower-cost housing. In Wellston, there are currently 155 occupied and 46 vacant public housing units. I have driven or biked by most of them. I haven’t seen the interiors, but I suspect that many of the units could be adequately rehabilitated with the selective rehab strategy I used for 45 years.

Wellston Mayor Nate Griffin, City Administrator Janice Trigg, and Chris Krehmeyer of Beyond Housing are working on an alternative to the HUD proposed relocation, which would likely end in demolition. I believe they have support from county, state, and federal elected officials, St. Augustine Church and Archdiocese, bankers, and Audubon Associates LLC. Give them some time to develop an alternative plan!

Grand Scale Development is often shortsighted or unrealistic. The Wellston “Choice Neighborhoods Transformation Plan” in November 2015 produced no results. The 1947 “large scale” development plan proposed by the St. Louis Plan Commission declared that all areas around the central business district were “obsolete” and “must be cleared and reconstructed.”  If the city had completed the plan, Soulard and Lafayette Square would have also been demolished.

Let’s remember St. Louis City’s Neighborhood Stabilization Team’s motto: “You don’t have to move to live in a better neighborhood.” Use selective rehab principles and work around existing tenants.


Jim Roos is currently retired after 47 years with Neighborhood Enterprises (NE) and Sanctuary in the Ordinary (SITO). NE repaired and managed—and SITO owned—lower cost rental housing.


Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

We invite readers to contribute to the civic conversation about community development in St. Louis by writing an op-ed for the Community Builders Exchange. Op-eds should be short (400-700 words) and provocative. If you have an idea for an op-ed, contact Todd Swanstrom at

Missouri Towns: Places for Building Health

Bob Hughes, Ph.D., President & CEO of Missouri Foundation for Health

This column was originally published in Bob Hughes’ blog on the Missouri Foundation for Health website, where he regularly writes about improving the health and well-being of individuals and communities most in need.

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Our default view of health is to think in terms of individuals—a specific disease or disability or how long a person will live. But a perspective that focuses only on one person omits a crucial, indispensable component of health: the well-being of people collectively.

When we talk about the health of a family, a neighborhood, or a city, we understand that health occurs at multiple levels, and these are mutually reinforcing. A healthy town produces healthy people, healthy people produce healthy towns. That is why Missouri Foundation for Health’s mission is to improve the health of people and communities.

This has important implications for all of us. It means that we are interdependent; the health of your neighborhood influences your health and vice-versa. The obvious example is how communicable diseases spread, but many other factors that influence health—from toxic stress to adequate shelter to access to education and healthy food—are our collective responsibility.

A principle site for this collective responsibility to take place is in our towns. Their importance to health is captured in the phrase, “Your ZIP code is more important to your health than your genetic code.” Towns are where we can take direct action to improve our lives—to create healthy environments, start businesses, find meaningful work, raise families, and help each other so that together we build community well-being.

Towns are the principle locations of—to use De Toqueville’s phrase that captured our nation’s unique character—”associations.” These are the organizations formed when citizens came together and took action to respond to community needs. The result is a diverse nonprofit sector that includes health clinics, day cares, places of worship, food pantries, senior centers—the institutions that support us and our fellow residents when we need help. And the people who work in these institutions know that their work is meaningful for the people they work with, for themselves, and ultimately for the entire community.

De Toqueville’s famous 1837 tour of the United States now has a contemporary companion – “Our Towns” by James and Deborah Fallows. The Fallows travelled more than 100,000 miles over five years to visit dozens of towns across America to examine the civic, economic, and social renewal of areas outside major metropolises and under the radar of national media. They found stories of growth, challenge, and creativity in the ongoing renewal and rebuilding of these towns.

I could not help thinking of Missouri’s smaller communities as I read this book, and the progress underway across our state. The Fallows note the value of “big plans” in successful towns, which they define as a plan that sets a reasonable time horizon of around 20 years to deliver results. #STL2039 is the year Forward Through Ferguson chose as an indicator of when generational change in STL racial equity should be achieved; these are the kind of big plans we need.

During their travels, the Fallows came to understand that “public-private partnerships” are an important ingredient in successful towns. I immediately thought of Springfield, Missouri, and the myriad community-wide public-private partnerships, such as the Healthy Living Alliance, a network of people and organizations working together to advocate for healthy policies and encourage healthy, active living. It also brought to mind the work of Bootheel Babies and Families, a key partner in our Infant Mortality Reduction Initiative, and how it is joining together with public and private entities to address a tragic issue that puts an emotional and economic burden on everyone in their region.

In successful towns, the Fallows also found that “people work together on practical local possibilities, rather than allowing bitter disagreements about national politics to keep them apart.” This is an important reminder for us all. In these politically divisive times, there remains so much more that ties us together than what separates us. The health of our very communities relies on our ability to work together and use our differences as an advantage, not an obstacle that prevents us from moving forward.

In many ways the Fallows’ findings shouldn’t be too surprising, but it’s an excellent reminder that the towns that are successfully reinventing themselves are doing so by thinking big, creating new partnerships, and by taking care of their residents. At their heart, these are lessons that communities of any size can benefit from.


Bob Hughes is president and CEO of Missouri Foundation for HealthIn his blog, he regularly writes about improving the health and well-being of individuals and communities most in need.

Before joining the Foundation as chief executive officer in 2012, Bob was a visiting research professor in the Center for State Health Policy at Rutgers University and served in various leadership positions for more than 20 years at The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in New Jersey. Since joining MFH, he has enhanced the strategic direction of the organization and positioned it to be a catalyst for change throughout the region. Under his leadership MFH focuses on fostering a culture of learning, exploration, and collaboration that promotes improvements in the health of underserved Missourians. A native of Illinois, Hughes received his doctorate in behavioral sciences from the Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health. Hughes serves on the boards of Grantmakers in Health and the St. Louis Regional Chamber of Commerce, as well as on the Advisory Board of Center for Effective Philanthropy.


Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

We invite readers to contribute to the civic conversation about community development in St. Louis by writing an op-ed for the Community Builders Exchange. Op-eds should be short (400-700 words) and provocative. If you have an idea for an op-ed, contact Todd Swanstrom at

An Open Approach to Community Development

Kimberly McKinney, CBN Board President & CEO of Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis

Sal Martinez, Previous CBN Board President, Treasurer of North Newstead Association’s Board of Directors, & Chairman of the St. Louis Housing Authority Board of Commissioners

Kimberly McKinney

Kimberly McKinney

When the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis (CBN) was formed over seven years ago, it took trust—among other things—to get a group of already too-busy nonprofit and business professionals to come together for the greater good of the community development sector, under an umbrella that we knew would likely evolve into an organization partly sustained by membership dues. Reflecting on where CBN began and where it is now with our first full-time Executive Director and talented staff, we can celebrate much evolution that has proudly led to recognition of CBN as a “go-to” entity on issues that affect our community. 

Sal Martinez

Sal Martinez

As a growing organization that represents a diverse group of members—including community development corporations from all areas of St. Louis, for-profit businesses who support and benefit from the work, public agencies, and a variety of other nonprofit service providers—we are routinely called upon to take a stance on, lend our name to, or provide support around various causes. These causes can range from advocating for the distribution of Federal and State Low Income Housing and Historic Tax Credits, to working to reduce vacancy in the City of St. Louis, to pushing for the establishment of an Affordable Housing Trust Fund in St. Louis County. Through its evolution, CBN has come to be recognized as a voice for the broader community development sector, as well as a facilitator and convener for a number of coalitions addressing a variety of critical community issues.

This is certainly a wonderful outcome of growth—that is, until issues and agendas divide membership, or even our Board, as we may find ourselves on opposite sides of or benefiting differently from an outcome. We also must be constantly mindful that the loudest voice isn’t necessarily the collective voice of our membership or Board.

Past and present leadership of CBN recognize that the best outcome is in finding common ground. This led us to a recent conversation on what that common ground may be. Knowing that there is more than one answer to this question, we both came back to one in particular time and time again: transparency. 

When an organization or individual finds themselves for or against something, their feeling and conclusion can often be traced back to an important question: how transparent was the process, decision, or action? Major planning or implementation decisions that are made openly and with the community at the table look and feel different from major decisions that appear to have been brokered through back-office deals. And when an issue starts as one that is community-driven, keeping community stakeholders at the table—and valuing their work—as things evolve helps to build irreplaceable trust.

Transparency rarely means that everyone will be completely happy once decisions are made, of course. But when those decisions are made in ways that make people feel heard and respected, all are more likely to be satisfied and to trust the process again in the future.

The intersection of trust and transparency is complex. It is also critical as we enter an age when residents and stakeholders are increasingly demanding to be included as a valued part of the present and future of their communities.


As Chief Executive Officer of Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis, Kimberly McKinney is responsible for the overall operation of the St. Louis affiliate of Habitat for Humanity International. Locally, Habitat for Humanity Saint Louis has built over 400 houses. Kimberly’s primary duties include board recruitment and development, strategic planning, community relations, and advocacy.

Kimberly initially began as Development Director with Habitat for Humanity in 1997 after relocating to St. Louis from Tennessee where she held management positions in both the public and private sector.

Kimberly serves on the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of Rise (formerly, RHCDA), the Board and Executive Committee as Board President of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis, the Board of Innovative Technology Education Fund, and the Board of Nonprofit MO. She is a past member of the US Council for Habitat for Humanity International and a current member of St. Louis Women’s Forum and CREW.


Sal Martinez has established himself as a force in the comprehensive revitalization of the St. Louis region. Martinez, who received his Bachelor of Science degree in Urban Education in 1994 from Harris-Stowe State College, was employed by the college as Neighborhood Services Coordinator from 1996-1998. During his tenure at College, Martinez served as a liaison to many local social service and non-profit agencies. These experiences had a profound effect on Martinez, as he developed a keen interest in assisting in the rebuilding of St. Louis’s many disinvested neighborhoods.

Since then, Martinez has spent years working with St. Louis-area efforts to develop and promote mixed income and affordable housing, innovative economic development, historic revitalization, and safety, security, and health programming for residents. He has served as Executive Director of the Grand Rock Community Economic Development Corporation, the Vashon/Jeff-Vander-Lou Initiative, and Community Renewal and Redevelopment, Inc. In January of 2017, Martinez was appointed as the Executive Director of North Newstead Association (NNA). NNA (which merged with CRD in 2017) is recognized as a community development corporation and has developed over 135 units of affordable housing in addition to promoting a number of human development initiatives for families residing in North St. Louis City. Martinez currently serves as CEO of Employment Connection, a nonprofit St. Louis community asset that breaks down barriers to self-sufficiency for individuals with limited opportunities including the homeless, ex-offenders, U.S. veterans, high school dropouts, women on welfare, and at-risk youth.

Martinez currently serves as chairman for the St. Louis Housing Authority Board of Commissioners and is in his fourth term; during his first, he was elected as the Board’s youngest-ever chairman. He serves on several advisory boards and committees designed to increase minority (MBE), women-owned (WBE), and Section 3 business and workforce participation on both publicly and privately funded construction projects, and is the co-founder of the Minority Contractor Initiative (MCI), which provides training, capacity building and technical assistance to St. Louis-region MBE/WBE/Section 3 construction firms. Martinez is also a long-time member of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Martinez has received numerous community service awards from regional and national organizations, including the Human Development Corporation; Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc.; Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.; Better Family Life; Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.; Metro Sentinel Journal; Senior and Disabled Services Committee; St. Louis Argus Newspaper; Employment Connection; St. Louis Housing Authority; Community Asset Management Company; Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Committee; and the East-West Gateway Coordinating Council. He also has received the Harris-Stowe State University Distinguished Alumni Award. Martinez serves on the boards of several civic organizations, including the Community Builders Network, Central Patrol Business/Police Association, Civil Rights Enforcement Agency, and North Grand Neighborhood Services, Inc.


Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

We invite readers to contribute to the civic conversation about community development in St. Louis by writing an op-ed for the Community Builders Exchange. Op-eds should be short (400-700 words) and provocative. If you have an idea for an op-ed, contact Todd Swanstrom at

Mental Health and Community Development

Laura Choi, Community Development Research Manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

This column originally appeared in Shelterforce.


The first time I became acutely aware of the importance of mental health was in high school, when I lost a friend to suicide. It remains one of the most defining experiences of my youth, both in terms of the immediate shock and grief, as well as what I learned by observing the reactions of others.

In our tight-knit immigrant community, the prevailing response was to actively avoid the issue. I assumed everyone stayed silent to minimize the family’s shame, but looking back, I now realize that we were woefully unequipped to respond. We lacked a fundamental understanding of mental health and how to talk about mental health challenges in productive ways, largely driven by cultural stigma. Adults also missed a critical opportunity to change the narrative and shine a light on the importance of proactive mental health promotion. That experience taught me an important lesson: mental health is foundational to every aspect of a healthy, productive life and it must be actively and openly cultivated.

Expanding the Healthy Communities Conversation to Include Mental Health

Over the past decade, the community development field has made great progress in bringing a health lens to its work, and exciting new partnerships between the health and community development sectors are taking shape across the country. These efforts have tended to focus on the connections between place and physical health, with a focus on neighborhood revitalization as a strategy for reducing rates of preventable chronic disease like asthma, diabetes, and obesity. However, the healthy communities movement has been less explicit about mental, emotional, and behavioral health, and it’s time for that to change. The stunning increase in suicide, alcohol- and drug-induced death, coupled with rising rates of anxiety and depression, particularly among youth, demands our collective attention and action.

Promoting mental health and well-being throughout a lifetime is critical for supporting the economic resilience and mobility of low-income people, a key aim of community development efforts. For example, there is clear evidence that poor mental health is associated with reductions in labor force participation and employment. Mental health problems among children have a severe negative impact on educational outcomes, which can limit future economic well-being. Approximately 50 percent of students age 14 and older who are living with a mental illness drop out of high school, the highest dropout rate of any disability group. Perhaps most critically, adverse childhood experiences, which include abuse, neglect, having an incarcerated household member, or substance misuse within the household, are risk factors for poor mental health and have been linked to a number of negative health and well-being outcomes, including risky health behaviors, chronic health conditions, and early death.

The community development field has the opportunity to explicitly recognize the relationship between mental health and physical health, and the role that social factors play in both aspects of overall well-being. “Upstream” conditions, such as neighborhood quality or household financial well-being, are important determinants of mental health and can influence factors such as emotional resilience, social connectedness, and self-efficacy. Poverty is a major risk factor for poor mental health. Research shows that community-development-related issues such as unstable housing and unemployment are connected in a complex negative cycle with poor mental health (see figure below). The pursuit of improved population health and expanded economic opportunity for all should include upstream strategies that address community conditions and their underlying structural drivers as a means of promoting good mental health.

Positive and Negative Factors that Influence Mental Health

Partnerships as the Way Forward

In his recent book Lost Connections, journalist Johan Hari synthesizes decades of social science and medical research and finds that poor mental health is driven by a range of factors outside of individual genetic and biochemical factors, which in addition to unresolved childhood trauma, include disconnection from:

  • Meaningful work

  • Other people

  • Status and respect

  • The natural world

  • A hopeful or secure future

Reflecting on these drivers of poor mental health, it becomes clear that the community development field has a meaningful role to play in addressing these root causes. The community development and mental health fields have a critical opportunity to work together, leveraging each other’s strengths, in supporting the mental health of low income communities. Some examples include:

  • Expanding trauma-informed practices, including critical interventions for young children

  • Considering mental health promotion in community design, which includes community gathering spaces and natural elements

  • Designing interventions that increase social connections and foster a sense of belonging

  • Facilitating opportunities for communities to work on violence prevention

  • Partnering to offer community-based mental health and behavioral health services

  • Developing community-driven mental health campaigns and arts and cultural strategies to reduce stigma and shame

  • Raising awareness of mental health issues among frontline staff and providing resources such as training on mental health first aid

As with all complex challenges, no single organization or even sector can do it alone; improving mental health at the population level requires strategic partnerships across disciplines and sectors. To help advance the conversation, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco recently released a publication dedicated to the topic of mental health and community development, recognizing that good mental health helps to contribute to a healthy and inclusive economy. This collection of essays brings a mental health lens to important community development issues like climate change and resilience, racial equity, and affordable housing. It also explores emerging strategies to promote mental health including arts and culture, resident community action, and community-driven solutions in rural areas. Read the full issue here.

As designer and urbanist Liz Ogbu says, “When we work in low-income communities, we tend to focus on need because the lack of resources is so readily apparent and visible. We don’t focus enough on aspiration. In fact, having an aspiration is a luxury we rarely ascribe to poor people, but they’re human; they have hopes and dreams.” Ultimately, this work is about ensuring that every community can be a place of healing and connectedness, where aspiration is a given, and building hope for the future is as central to our field as building housing.

Let’s bring mental health into the open and keep the conversation going. How are mental health issues impacting your community, and what is working to address them?

The views are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco or the Federal Reserve System.


Laura Choi is community development research manager at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, where she works with a team to expand economic opportunity for low-income communities and communities of color. She is co-editor of the Community Development Innovation Review and was an editor of What It’s Worth: Strengthening the Financial Future of Families, Communities, and the Nation, a book jointly published by the SF Fed and Prosperity Now.


Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

We invite readers to contribute to the civic conversation about community development in St. Louis by writing an op-ed for the Community Builders Exchange. Op-eds should be short (400-700 words) and provocative. If you have an idea for an op-ed, contact Todd Swanstrom at

No One Single Source Can Fund Transit; However, Missouri Needs to Be a Partner

Dorothy Yeager, Executive Director of OATS, Inc.

Kim Cella, Executive Director of Missouri Public Transit Association & Citizens for Modern Transit

This column was originally published on Citizens for Modern Transit’s website.

Dorothy Yeager

Dorothy Yeager

The State of Transit Funding Commentary

OATS is one of the largest and oldest transit systems of its kind in the nation. It has been serving Missouri since 1971 and currently provides reliable transportation service in 87 counties, with the help of 636 drivers and a fleet of over 800 vehicles. Last year, OATS buses travelled 15 million miles in the state providing over 1.5 million one-way trips. People rely on OATS bus service to get to work, doctors, grocery stores, pharmacies, senior centers, sheltered workshops and anywhere else they need to go. However. the lack of financial support from that state of Missouri has a significant impact on OATS ability to serve them – and, weather federal government shutdowns.

Kim Cella

Kim Cella

Transit investment must become a priority in Missouri. Transit systems across the nation receive approximately 40 percent of their annual operating budgets from their respective states. This is not the case in Missouri. For more than a decade, the state legislature has continued to slash funding to an all-time low, with $1.7 million split among 34 transit providers last year. Many local transit providers now get less than one percent of their annual operating budgets from the state.

This void means OATS, and other Missouri transit providers, must rely more heavily on federal dollars, while seeking creative means to secure funding resources. The federal government shutdown has forced OATS to cut service by 15 percent, and further cuts will have to be made if the shutdown continues.

Despite the here and now with the federal government, persistent lack of state funding is taking its toll on transit providers. This issue must be addressed. According to the Missouri Public Transit Association, service cuts and fare hikes are being made in various communities statewide. This means service in some counties in no longer available at the same level of frequency. Those living in more rural communities are only able to gain access to one or two rips a month. This is not enough for the people who are dependent on transit to gain access to doctors and groceries. And, it certainly doesn’t help someone who might need daily service to get to work.

I’ve worked to further the delivery of transportation services for more than three decades, and if there is one thing I’ve learned over the years, it is that there is no single funding source with enough money to ensure OATS can serve all the people in need of its services. It is not being suggested that the state figure out a way to fully fund transit. What’s needed is a bigger, more reliable partnership.

It takes multiple sources to keep buses running – local, state and federal funding, fare revenue and support from riders and other individuals, businesses and organizations. It is essential to the ridership and to the vitality of the state, as public transit helps to stimulate economic development, attracts and retains business, establishes healthier communities, connects individuals to job opportunities, furthers equality and builds sustainable communities.

The need for public transit in rural areas was identified way back in 1971 and Missouri led the way in developing the solution. I ask state legislatures to rally behind this cause and keep transit moving forward.


Dorothy Yeager is the executive Director of OATS, Inc. and executive committee member of the Missouri Public Transit Association.

Kim Cella is Executive Director of Missouri Public Transit Association and Citizens for Modern Transit.


Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

We invite readers to contribute to the civic conversation about community development in St. Louis by writing an op-ed for the Community Builders Exchange. Op-eds should be short (400-700 words) and provocative. If you have an idea for an op-ed, contact Todd Swanstrom at

The Case for a Guaranteed Annual Income

By Paul Dribin

Paul Dribin_cropped_resized.jpg

I predict that most readers of this article are people who care about poverty. Many build and manage affordable housing. Many of us entered this field because we wanted to help improve the lives of people with low incomes and the communities around them. I have worked in the field my whole adult life and have loved the work and the colleagues I’ve worked with.

I have concluded my career by surmising something I’ve been aware of for a long time: that housing alone is not sufficient to conquer poverty. Many projects have provided supportive services with some degree of success. But I believe we need to take things to the next level.

The next step is providing a guaranteed minimum income for everyone at or below 100% of the area median income. This income source would have no strings attached and would be used as a wage supplement.

This policy would have some obvious and not-so-obvious advantages for community and urban development.

First, poverty can be greatly eliminated with cash transfers to lower income households. These families would end up spending most of their money on goods and services, thereby stimulating local and national economies.

Second, housing segregation would be diminished. These funds would enable individuals to live where they wanted, thereby better dispersing poor people to neighborhoods of opportunity. Our present system of affordable housing accomplishes little in dispersing low income individuals across the metropolitan area.

Third, cash transfers would greatly increase the demand for housing, thereby spurring new construction and rehabilitation of existing neighborhoods.

Fourth, I believe it will diminish crime, because low-income people will have an opportunity to be better dispersed around the metro area, not forced to live in high-crime areas. Additionally, higher incomes can contribute to a lessening of crime.

Finally, a guaranteed annual income would be good for communities primarily because it’s the most efficient and effective way to help community members out of poverty. Here are a few reasons why.

  • Our experience with income transfer programs verify this case for a guaranteed annual income. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has reported that the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit took 8.9 million people out of poverty and made 19.3 million individuals less poor. Social Security took 22,068,000 people out of poverty. This data was for the year 2016. Income transfer programs are efficient: virtually 100% of the funds spent go directly to the recipient.

  • The largest housing production program, the Low Income Housing Tax Credit, is neither efficient nor effective. It is not efficient because large amounts of the funds allocated go to third parties rather than to the client. It is ineffective because it does not house those who need it the most, people with very low incomes.

  • Large-scale income transfers would generate demand for the construction and rehabilitation of apartment housing. I would recommend a beefed-up HUD financing program that is simpler and quicker to process.

  • Income transfers avoid the problem of community resistance to affordable housing. People are supported instead of projects, and unlike the case with the Housing Choice Voucher Program, landlords would deal totally with the tenant for the rent. Racial and economic integration would be easier.

  • Transfer programs have almost no administrative burdens and give clients the most choices.

Critics will say a program such as this has little chance of passing and is too expensive. I believe it will appeal to political conservatives more than programs with extensive federal rules. It would reinforce conservative efforts to stimulate employment, because people could work in lower wage jobs and be subsidized.

There should be a vigorous discussion of a proposal like this one. It is safe to say that the housing programs we have utilized in the past have not accomplished the end of poverty. Many housing providers I’ve worked with have admitted to me in private that an income distribution program would work far better than a housing program. If we want to increase the health and prosperity of our communities and the residents who live in them, we should adopt a guaranteed annual income.


Paul Dribin has worked most recently as a housing and community development consultant. He previously served with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for 30 years in a variety of positions. Paul has frequently been called to Washington, D.C. to advise senior staff on policy development and evaluation. He has a B.A. in political science from Roosevelt University and an M.A. in political science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.


Articles in “From the Field” represent the opinions of the author only and do not represent the views of the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis or the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

We invite readers to contribute to the civic conversation about community development in St. Louis by writing an op-ed for the Community Builders Exchange. Op-eds should be short (400-700 words) and provocative. If you have an idea for an op-ed, contact Todd Swanstrom at