The EPA and Us

By Jessica Estes, MSW, Community Organizer at Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE)

This column was originally published in The St. Louis American.


America is in crisis, and it is of a constant yet varied nature. Multiple natural disasters, mass shootings, civil unrest, racial tension and political discourse dominate every media outlet and every conversation with friends and family. One could be so overwhelmed by the state of our nation that one crisis may be unintentionally overlooked or overshadowed.

When regime change happens in America—when there is a new presidential election—priorities change. One such priority change grossly decreases the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) budget. In relation to the other crises at hand, the state of the EPA could be easily put on the back burner. But the EPA budget cuts will have atrickle-down effect on us here in St. Louis, so we must advocate for environmental justice.

The EPA defines environmental justice as fair treatment and meaningful inclusion regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

The EPA’s Environmental Justice Program funds local projects. Dutchtown South Community Corporation and Trailnet are two local organizations utilizing those funds for the betterment of the community.

The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) reports the $81 million Missouri receives in grants from the EPA is in jeopardy. In 2016, the EPA provided Missouri with $3.6 million to keep our drinking water safe; 2.5 million Missourians rely on the EPA to keep their drinking water safe. Unfortunately, the Trump administration intends to strike these funds from the budget. Where does that leave Missourians?

The EPA budget cuts impact us all, but vulnerable populations stand to lose the most. Missouri has 1,022 Brownfield sites, which are sites that have a presence of hazardous substances, contaminants or pollutants. The Trump Administration has proposed decreasing EPA’s clean-up initiatives. Funding to Brownfield sites will be slashed more than 20 percent.

There is a high concentration of these Brownfield sites in predominantly black and low- to moderate-income neighborhoods—for example, Wellston and Jeff-Vander-Lou. The median household income in Wellston ranges from $16,912 to $30,250. In Jeff-Vander-Lou, median household incomes are as low as $9,732. This is not by happenstance. This is the manifestation of environmental racism.

When low-income individuals and minorities are relegated to living in close proximity to toxic and hazardous waste, including urban decay, we call this environmental racism. The environment in and of itself is not racist. However, the institutions that mediate environmental hazards and disasters, such as the EPA, are led by people, who establish priorities based on personal bias and prejudices. Nationally, consider the handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina; locally, consider the handling of the Clemens Mansion.

The EPA provides us with a number of services that improve our quality of life. It is imperative that we ensure those services continue. We must hold the Trump Administration accountable and demand environmental justice.


Jessica Estes, MSW obtained her Master of Social Work, concentrating on social and economic development and policy. She utilizes her social work skills and knowledge as a new community organizer at Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE). A St. Louis native, Jessica is committed to working for transformative social policy, so everyone in this city can have a high quality of life. She believes your values manifest in how you spend your time. Jessica sits on the base-building committee for the Organization for Black Struggle (OBS) and volunteers with Missouri Jobs with Justice (JwJ).


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 swanstromt@umsl.edu.

The Conversation

The Public Benefit of Historic Tax Credits

By John Burse, FAIA, LEED AP, Principal at Mackey Mitchell Architects

This column was originally published in the St. Louis Business Journal.


As a recipient of Missouri’s state historic tax credit, I contributed insights to the governor’s committee on taxation. I was consequently surprised to read the committee’s finding that “no member of the public provided a plausible explanation of the public benefit” from historic tax credits.

The dividend reinvesting in the tired neighborhoods of our state’s small towns and abandoned cities pays vast benefits. As the greenest building is the one that already exists, taking advantage of existing structure reduces pollution, contains sprawl and preserves landscape. At the scale of the neighborhood, the investment of home ownership across a spectrum of generations and income levels is a fundamental building block to creating sustainably healthy, safe and vibrant communities—public benefits for sure!

I received a state historic tax credit by renovating a vacant, crumbling dwelling in Old North St. Louis. The home was on a block of similarly abandoned structures, and required more work than real estate appraisal comps could justify a bank loan to cover. There was a significant chasm between what I could get for a loan—about $80,000—and the work that needed to be done—about $350,000 to $400,000. Making the project happen required six years of “sweat equity,” something most banks do not typically tolerate.

Having completed the project, reaping the tax credit helped defray risk. Equally important, the tax credit made me feel the state was a partner in what I was doing. Missouri believed in the power of what vibrant historic neighborhoods in its cities and small towns could do for the state, and wanted to encourage risk-taking and investment.

Over more than 10 years of living in Old North, countless other families and individuals were attracted to and invested in the area, many using the historic tax credit. I saw the lights gradually turned back on down my block and across Old North. This energy helped leverage nearly $55 million in additional investment in an inner-city neighborhood that had witnessed decades of decline. The results were astounding: Old North St. Louis posted a 30 percent gain in population; the results garnered national recognition for smart growth, affordable housing and historic preservation.

With these experiences in mind, in May of this year I offered the governor’s committee suggestions to improve the program:

  • Remove the cap. The current cap discourages being able to depend on the availability of the credit and constrains and diminishes the amount of investment we could be seeing.

  • Within our region, there are neighborhoods where the market is well established. These are not the places that need the tax credit. It’s our forgotten communities that need the leg up, and the application of the state historic tax credits should be prioritized for jump starting momentum in those areas which need reinvestment the most.

Growing healthy neighborhoods from disinvested, abandoned ones is a public benefit. Reform ought to allow tools like this to be more focused on those places which would benefit the most from risk taking and bold investment. Prohibiting single-family development from using this tool is short sighted, as homeowners in particular have the greatest potential to reinvest in rebuilding healthy, stable and safe communities across Missouri.


John is originally from Canterbury, Connecticut. His passion is design which fosters community. He oversees the design for many higher-ed student life projects, including dining, residential halls, academic spaces and student centers. His area of expertise is student centers, where he applies his love for creating community. John’s leadership style is engaging, thoughtful and enjoyable and it emphasizes design as a collaborative journey.

His designs for student centers have been recognized by the Association of College Unions International’s Facility Design Award of Excellence. John is a frequent presenter at national and regional conferences for ACUI, ACUHO-I and SCUP. His experience includes planning and design of residence halls, dining centers, performing arts facilities and campuses.

John enjoys giving back to the community, helping to lead community development efforts of the nationally recognized Old North St. Louis Restoration Group, past chairmanship of the City’s Preservation Board. His leadership was recognized with a national AIA Young Architect’s Award, as well as a Focus St. Louis “What’s Right with the Region” award. He has been featured in Architectural Record, Competitions, Marketplace and Metropolis.

John Burse joined Mackey Mitchell Architects in 1997 and was named principal in 2005.


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 swanstromt@umsl.edu.

Tax Credit Cuts Will Spurn Economic Development

By Joel Smiley, M.P.A., Principal at Attracting Resources, LLC

This column was originally published in the St. Louis Business Journal.


Our state and national economy are still in a very fragile environment. Gov. Eric Greitens and President Donald Trump are targeting tax credits as deficit reduction measures. The impact these cuts could have on manufacturers and other new developments could be substantial. All things being equal, manufacturers look at economic conditions, as well as market conditions, in determining site selection and growth strategies.

Tax incentives, especially on the state and local level, target underperforming areas as well as key industry clusters, job creation and infrastructure. While a massive infrastructure investment on the federal side will stimulate job creation, it may have little impact in urban core areas, rural development, poverty reduction and primary sector job creation.

State and local programs target these areas on a micro level and use tax incentive programs to level the playing field as well as reduce market condition costs, enabling the employer to create more jobs and opportunities.

A prime example is the Brownfield Tax Credit program. Brownfields are declared on environmentally challenged areas and are used to assess the site, create an action plan for clean-up and assist with the actual clean-up. Additional credits may be applied for a job creation component. By cleaning up a blighted property and creating jobs, you are not only improving economic opportunities for the site, but also for the surrounding area as property values improve.

New Market Tax Credits allow for investment in primary and secondary blighted census tracts. This program has job creation and investment criteria and helps revitalize high poverty areas with development. Community Development Entities assure the projects are tax credit worthy as well as shovel ready. The investor of the tax credits is investing in high poverty areas that would normally not attract economic opportunity in high risk areas.

Job training programs, including on-the-job training, offset training wages for high risk individuals as well as development projects in targeted area. OJT programs assess the training requirement for a position and offset training wages to an employer. Work Opportunity Tax Credits offer federal tax credits to employers who hire high risk individuals. These credits also reduce employer training costs.

State opportunities, especially primary sector positions that target key industries, are in tight competition on a national level. Corporate headquarters, manufacturers and high tech companies look at access to a highly educated workforce, lower taxes, available property with infrastructure, and lease office space availability. Tax credits are used by other states to offset some of these costs during the first few years of operation to offset infrastructure, training and investment costs. These savings can make the difference in the first few years of operation.

When elected officials talk about eliminating tax credits, are they eliminating new investment and job creation as well? Are they thinking about targeted areas in key industries? From an economic development perspective, I hope they take these criteria into consideration.


Joel Smiley launched Attracting Resources, LLC in 2013. He has over ten years of experience in economic development, encompassing a diverse set of work in Logan County, Illinois; Chesterfield, Missouri; and for SUPERVALU, Inc., where he successfully helped to recruit and/or retain over $500 million in commercial projects, mostly involving tax credits. His accomplishments cover economic development planning, business development, fundraising, and grant writing. Mr. Smiley has been active with the International Economic Development Council (IEDC) and other state economic development agencies. He is a member or former member of numerous chambers and civic organizations, including the Kiwanis Club, Rotary Club, Lincoln Chamber of Commerce, Chesterfield Chamber of Commerce, Valley 2000, MO BIO, Missouri Economic Development Council, Illinois Development Council, Missouri Municipal League, and the National Business Incubation Association.


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 swanstromt@umsl.edu.

Why St. Louis Needs a Network of On-Street Protected Bikeways and Sidewalk Improvements

By Grace Kyung, Special Projects Director at Trailnet


If we want a thriving, vibrant St. Louis, we must recognize that all our neighborhoods and residents have the right to a livable, healthy community. Healthy food access should not require two bus rides and several dollars each way. Children walking to school in the morning should not have to gamble on whether a driver will stop at an intersection for them. Jobs should be safely reachable for everyone by car, bus, bike, or train so that all people have a chance to be successful. A low-stress biking and walking network helps lay the foundation for livable, healthy communities.

However, in St. Louis, transportation inequities produced by decades of white flight, public and private disinvestment, and a lack of public policy solutions have created neighborhoods that are physically isolated from the thriving parts of the region.

Many of these efforts were intentional. In support of white flight from urban areas to suburban communities, interstates were routed through poor Black neighborhoods to ensure that middle-class whites could continue to access their jobs and visit cultural areas like parks and museums. During this time, discriminatory policies like redlining made it nearly impossible for residents of poor neighborhoods to secure financial assistance, such as home mortgages. These deliberate decisions have an unjust legacy: too many neighborhoods continue to fall behind due to lack of investment and planning.

Data shows that we need to plan for better walking and biking infrastructure going north and south in St. Louis. The 38 census tracts north of Delmar are primarily Black, have the highest number of transit users and households without vehicles, and lower population density coupled with lower life expectancyand higher concentrated poverty rates. Research also shows that predominantly Black communities have less access to safe infrastructure. We see this reflected in the rate of pedestrian deaths in these neighborhoods.

To create a livable, healthy, thriving St. Louis community, we must both address these barriers and harness our assets. From our great parks to our cultural amenities to our unique neighborhoods, we know we have the destinations we need to become a leading city. That is why Trailnet launched a new vision for St. Louis: we are working to connect places that matter with a cohesive network of on-street protected bikeways and sidewalk improvements.

By connecting with over 2,000 people through extensive stakeholder interviews, community and committee meetings, and surveys, we know that opportunities to walk and bike to parks, neighborhoods, and business districts are important to the region. About 85 percent of people who shared their input with Trailnet support a network of on-street protected bikeways and improved sidewalks through their neighborhood. Most individuals shared that this type of connection would help them enjoy walking and biking to local businesses, schools, and parks safely, even if that means slowing down traffic.

Trailnet’s vision is guided by principles that include equity as a value. To make meaningful changes, we must cultivate an understanding of the systemic barriers at work in St. Louis and the role transportation planning has played in community development. We are learning about people’s lived experiences and folding them into Trailnet’s vision so that we can create a plan that addresses these inequities and helps change the narrative for St. Louis.

This November, Trailnet is sharing the proposed destinations that will anchor a network of on-street protected bikeways and sidewalk improvements and connect people to places that matter. Using a racial equity lens, we are prioritizing communities of color and their transportation needs. As the process moves to the next phase of engagement, Trailnet will continue to listen so that we can understand community priorities. We are developing a plan that reflects neighborhood and resident needs and desires for a low-stress biking and walking network.

This vision alone will not solve St. Louis’ systemic issues, but a well-designed network for multi-modal transportation is a key asset that can bring our unique neighborhoods together. To do this in a just way, we must work alongside our community to develop a community-supported plan that has equity at the center.


Grace Kyung is the Special Projects Director at Trailnet and is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Leader. Grace graduated from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign with a Master of Public Health and Master of Urban Planning. Grace can be contacted at grace@trailnet.org.


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.

Universal Design Means More Livable Communities for Everyone

By Deb Bokamper, Owner of Ageless Design, and Vito Lucido, Independent Living Services Coordinator at Delta Center for Independent Living and Chair of the St. Charles County Housing Team


While the United States is home to many fine housing developments, there is a blind spot with the implementation of universal design principles and practices to help people age in place. Universal design can ensure social value for homeowners and home buyers while increasing market share for housing developers. Maybe without realizing it and certainly by not prioritizing it, housing developers have bypassed tremendous opportunities to embrace innovation by notoffering more attractive universal design housing options.

The seven general guiding principles of universal design include but are not limited to the following (from the Missouri Inclusive Housing Development Corporation):

  1. Equitable use, such as zero degree entries.

  2. Flexibility in development, such as open-floor plans for single-floor living.

  3. Simple and intuitive functional uses of switches and outlets that are reachable at any height.

  4. Perceptible information, including wider hallways and doorways to accommodate those in wheelchairs or other mobility devices.

  5. Low physical effort regarding doors, lever-style door handles, faucet handles, and “backing” for grab bars where needed.

  6. Simple and intuitive functional uses of space in bathrooms, kitchens, and other areas.

  7. Tolerance for error with regard to flooring, ventilation, base cabinets, or cook tops, to provide access even when a feature is not needed today but might be needed in the future.

Deb Bokamper is the principal at Ageless Design, which offers residential universal design projects. She is a member of the American Society of Interior Design and a Certified Aging in Place Specialist (CAPS). Deb’s designs feature the types of flooring, cabinetry, special size doorways and hallways, lighting, furniture, and paint colors that are the hallmarks of universal design.

One of her clients is Joseph Fischer, Jr., a man who is getting older and needed his home’s interior space to be more functional for him. He needed a home where he could age in place and enjoy a comfortable and successful retirement. So he started looking for someone to help him build a universal design home.

The universal design features most important to Joe included a walk-in shower, zero degree entry, lighting directly over the shower space, and having all living features on one floor so he would never need to go to a lower level.

Joe’s bathrooms required a certain degree of turning radius and correct toilet height, and his flooring had to be easy to clean but also safe to walk on. Universal design flooring should be slip-resistant, yet smooth and safe without trip hazards. Carpet, if used at all, should be low pile—otherwise it can act like quicksand when accessed by someone using a wheelchair.

Space was another important consideration for Joe. Universal design doorways need to be wider than the standard 30 inches to get walkers, wheelchairs and power chairs in and out. Developers should start with 36 inches and consider doing away with interior doors (which will save money) or incorporating pocket doors instead.

Joe needed adequate lighting, too—more than the electrician suggested—with switches, outlets, and other electrical features placed at accessible levels. These features were not expensive, and when compared to the cost of falls and broken bones, Joe said, “they are priceless!”

Joe was concerned with general safety in his home. He installed exterior lighting and an alarm system to reduce the potential for vandalism, and also added low-upkeep flowers and shrubs. In closets, he wanted lower racks so he could reach them from a wheelchair. Joe discovered that using all-LED lighting saved on energy costs and bulb replacement, and he had Ageless Design convert part of a linen closet into a combined medicine and linen space with paint contrasted between light and dark colors so objects stick out.

Joe’s story is a testament to the power and potential of universal design. It adds market value, makes homes more functional for homeowners, and creates a better way to age in place. By tweaking floor plans to include universal design features, developers can increase the number of attractive options available at the point of new construction. They can also increase the resale value of homes as younger home buyers seek accessible first-floor living for parents, visitors, and themselves. With one-third of Americans set to age into retirement by 2030 (Alan Cheshier, “Universal Design a Boon to Resale Value”), it is now more essential than ever that everyone be able to visit family, friends, and loved ones of all abilities where they are.

Most importantly, universal design helps to build communities that are more welcoming for everyone. Says Joe, “A universal design home will take me to the end of my life and provide me with a safe and functional space for me as I age—and for my children and grandchildren when they come over to visit.”


Deb Bokamper is owner of Ageless Design and is a professional member of the American Society of Interior Design and a Certified Aging in Place Specialist. She has been in the interior design business since 1989 and has a background in financial services.


Vito Lucido is the Independent Living Services Coordinator at Delta Center for Independent Living and serves as chair of the St. Charles County Housing Team, a voluntary council dedicated to quality universal design housing. He is a quadriplegic with 34 years of experience living with a disability.

Click here to learn more about the St. Charles County Housing Team and the work they do to identify barriers to and promote solutions to meet multiple housing needs.


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.

New Use Tax Revenue Should Support Affordable Housing

By Chris Willcox, CBN Practicum Student


Housing is increasingly difficult to obtain for our nation’s poorest families. The federal government defines affordable housing as shelter that costs no more 30 percent of one’s income. In its 2017 Out of Reach report, the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NIHLC) tells us that in no county in the United States is a one-bedroom apartment affordable at fair market rent for someone who earns the minimum wage. The City of St. Louis is no exception. A person earning minimum wage would spend 67 percent of his or her income to rent a two-bedroom apartment at the fair market rent defined by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

After the Missouri legislature stripped our cities of the ability to raise the minimum wage, St. Louis needs to find alternative policies to help put housing and a decent standard of living in reach for our most vulnerable. One of the most effective ways to do this is by investing in affordable housing. The passage of Proposition 1 gives St. Louis the opportunity to make that investment through the Affordable Housing Trust Fund.

St. Louis’ Affordable Housing Trust Fund (AHTF), funded by the Local Use Tax Fund, is the City’s primary means of providing loans and grants for affordable housing and related services. The fund finances home construction, home repair, homelessness prevention and shelter, and supportive services that stabilize communities, such as elder services that help people age in place. Flexible home repair dollars also help to build wealth in areas with low access to capital.

Homes funded by the AHTF reach our most vulnerable neighbors, as more than 40 percent of dollars allocated are set aside for projects that benefit people who earn 20 percent or less of the area median income. All homes created are also energy efficient, lead safe, and conform to universal design for maximum accessibility. The AHTF increases the stock of attractive homes that are available to residents with low and moderate incomes and people with disabilities.

In addition to putting quality housing within reach for people who need it, investing in affordable housing improves our community as a whole. A 2015 study from the Stanford Business School found that affordable housing construction in low-income communities improves home values, reduces crime and attracts a racially and income-diverse population. Research by the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City reported the same effect on home values, showing that home values within 500 feet of affordable housing projects built by local community development corporations (CDCs) rose by 11.8 percent. Higher property values means more tax revenues to support city services like our public schools. The projects the AHTF makes possible are key to revitalizing St. Louis neighborhoods.

Supporting affordable housing development is not only the right thing to do; it is a good investment for St. Louis. Every $1 spent by the AHTF on home construction and major rehabilitation is matched by $17 in public and private funds, making it an effective catalyst for community development. These projects also address vacancy by putting underutilized properties back into productive use. Expanding investment in the AHTF makes St. Louis more attractive for investment from outside the region, such as the Low Income Housing Tax Credit. Further, many AHTF loans to home developers and home buyers are repayable, replenishing funds that can be further reinvested to create more equitable and vibrant communities for St. Louis’ future.

Expanding St. Louis’ commitment to affordable housing and community services is especially vital in a world of diminishing federal funds. Since the AHTF was created in 2003, federal Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME program funds awarded to the City of St. Louis have decreased from $40.2 million in annual awards to $18.8 million in 2016 (adjusted for inflation to 2017 dollars), a total decline of 53 percent.

St. Louis should allocate half of the new Use Tax revenue from Proposition 1 in addition to the $5 million minimum required by local ordinance. This a local solution to increasing federal disinvestment.

As affordable housing moves further out of reach for many St. Louis residents, investing in the AHTF empowers our city to both provide for immediate housing needs and support the community over the long term. Projects and services funded by the AHTF have the potential to improve home values, reduce crime, and provide long-term solutions to homelessness. By choosing to invest in the AHTF, we make a commitment to care for our neighbors and provide for our economic future.


Chris Willcox is a second-year Master of Social Work student with a specialization in leadership and social change at UMSL. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Political Science with a minor in history from Truman State University. Prior to starting his master’s, he worked as a direct support provider for people with developmental disabilities in St. Charles. He draws on this experience to connect public policy and nonprofit management to frontline service provision to improve the lives and protect the rights of vulnerable populations.


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.

Across The Country, Some Neighborhoods Are Thriving And Some Struggling, But What About The Ones That Fall Somewhere In The Middle?

By Rep. Dwight Evans, U.S. Representative, Pennsylvania’s 2nd Congressional District and Paul C. Brophy, Principal, Brophy & Reilly LLC

This column was originally published in the Huffington Post.

Rep. Dwight Evans (above) and Paul Brophy

Rep. Dwight Evans (above) and Paul Brophy

Researchers at Reinvestment Fund in Philadelphia report that 48 percent of city residents in the United States live in “middle neighborhoods.” These neighborhoods are generally affordable and functional, and they offer a reasonable quality of life, but many are in danger of decline.

A shrinking middle class, the suburbanization of jobs, obsolete housing styles, and dwindling homeownership rates cloud the future of these middle neighborhoods that serve as the lynchpin of success for most American cities and older suburbs.

Yet these areas—that provide a substantial portion of local property-tax revenue―are ignored by policymakers who have focused on the problems of concentrated poverty, gentrification, and the need for downtown revitalization.

In an environment of proposals to severely cut funds for cities, the federal government would be wise to allocate some small amount of funds to test approaches to prevent the decline of America’s middle neighborhoods.

There is not a one-size-fits-all approach for supporting middle neighborhoods. Something that works in one area of a city may not work in another due to a host of factors such as the average age of homeowners, the quality of housing stock, and other existing neighborhood assets. Targeted improvement strategies, like Philadelphia’s Rebuilding Together, are working to increase both homeowner and neighborhood value through low-cost, high-impact home improvement projects. Across the country, new middle neighborhood initiatives are working to strengthen neighborhood organizations and clubs that are working together to improve their middle neighborhoods. Some are building marketing programs to build stronger neighborhood cohesion and attract new residents.

Modest investments in a middle neighborhoods strategy could make a big impact on the quality of life of millions of people living in our nation’s major cities and older suburbs. Strengthening these middle neighborhoods has the practical outcome of helping modest-income homeowners build some wealth through home appreciation, and increases property taxes paid to cities and suburbs, enabling them to provide better services throughout their jurisdictions. Policymakers and city-builders should recognize the critical importance of middle neighborhoods and invest in them―as we already do in our very distressed neighborhoods and our downtowns―so that they can continue to serve their vital and historic role in American cities.


Congressman Dwight Evans represents Pennsylvania’s Second Congressional District, which includes Northwest, West, North, parts of South and Center City Philadelphia, and the western suburbs of Narberth and Lower Merion Township. He serves on the House Agriculture Committee and House Small Business Committee. To learn more about Congressman Evans’ work in Congress, please visit his FacebookTwitter, and congressional website.


Paul C. Brophy is a principal with Brophy & Reilly LLC, a consulting firm specializing in economic development, and neighborhood improvement; the management of complex urban redevelopment projects; and the development of mixed-income housing communities. Brophy has been a Senior Advisor to the Center for Community Progress, a Senior Scholar at the George Warren Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis, and a Senior Advisor to Enterprise Community Partners. He is currently an adjunct professor at School of Urban and Regional Planning, Georgetown University and a member of the Reinvestment Fund‘s Policy Advisory Board.

Mr. Brophy holds degrees from LaSalle University and the University of Pennsylvania. He is co-author or editor of four books: On the Edge: America’s Middle Neighborhoods(2016); Neighborhood Revitalization: Theory and Practice (1975); Housing and Local Government (1982), and A Guide to Careers in Community Development (2001).


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.

The Many Factors That Lead to Lifelong Health

By Robert Hughes, President and CEO, Missouri Foundation for Health

This column was originally published on Missouri Foundation for Health’s website.


I don’t think I’m biased when I say that we at the Missouri Foundation for Health have an exceptional organizational mission—”to improve the health and well-being of individuals and communities most in need”—to set as the North Star for our work. But how we think about the concepts of “health” and “well-being” greatly affects how we put this mission into action. These terms at first blush seem simple, but when looking at them through a broader lens we start to see how expansive they are. Health is more than just access to a doctor or hospital. By examining how the many elements that make up our lives affect our overall health and well-being, it becomes clear how broad our mission really is. Improving our health care system is certainly important to us, but so are issues like toxic stress, safe and stable housing, and food security. Our collective efforts are guided by the realization that the well-being of our communities can only truly be improved by also addressing the many underlying factors that shape our health over time.

For many, the terms health and well-being imply medical care—diagnosis and treatment of specific illnesses by health professionals. Yet a moment’s reflection reveals a deeper, more complex idea, one grounded in the accumulation of experiences during a lifetime. We recognize that numerous factors, including family circumstances, education, and community environs influence everyone’s health. They affect everything from our behavior (e.g., smoking, eating, and physical activity), to our ultimate cause and time of death. These factors are often referred to as social determinants of health, but I prefer to use the more inclusive term underlying determinants of health. Think of them as upstream or contributing factors that can be altered to increase the downstream chances for healthier and more meaningful lives.


Given the many factors that impact health and well-being, what roadmap do we use to chart our course to improve health in our communities? We begin with the understanding that medical care remains an important factor included in our work. That is reflected in the priority we give to helping people get health insurance coverage, increasing access to care, and strengthening behavioral health care as part of an integrated delivery system—three current focus areas. Indeed, many of our efforts are aimed at the goal of achieving universal access to affordable care, reflecting our view that our health care system is a crucial vehicle for improving health.

But research over the past few decades has demonstrated that other factors have a greater effect on health than medical care. These underlying determinants of health, from food security to adequate housing to early childhood education, are inequitably distributed across communities. We all don’t begin life at the same starting line or have the same circumstances moving forward, and that makes all the difference in our relative health and well-being. This is why, despite advances in medical technology, the gap in life expectancy between the rich and the poor continues to widen. It is these circumstances that are the focus of our second goal—to reduce the inequities in underlying determinants of health. Our current and past work to promote healthy schools and healthy communities, strengthen our public health infrastructure, and reduce tobacco use all address underlying determinants of health. Efforts based on recommendations from the Ferguson Commission’s report on food insecurity and gun violence prevention reinforce the breadth of the Foundation’s work to reduce these inequities.

The two goals—universal access to affordable care and reducing inequities in underlying determinants of health—are interconnected. Strengthening health upstream reduces the needs of health care systems down the line. The Foundation’s work to strengthen leadership, advocacy, and policy apply to both goals. There are many fronts to work on improving health and well-being in Missouri, and our grantees’ work, whatever the specifics may be, contributes to our mission and these goals. Moving forward, we encourage our partners to think of health and well-being broadly, and to take advantage of our Opportunity Fund with these ideas in mind.



Missouri Foundation for Health is a resource for the region, working with communities and nonprofits to generate and accelerate positive changes in health. As a catalyst for change, the Foundation improves the health of Missourians through partnership, experience, knowledge, and funding.

To learn more please visit mffh.org.


Before joining the Foundation as Chief Executive Officer in 2012, Bob Hughes 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 on the Advisory Board of the 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.

How We Subsidize Spread-Out Places Via Utilities

By Richard Bose, Electrical Engineer and Vice President of St. Louis Strong

This column was originally published on NextSTL.com.


Take a look at your utility bills. Is there any charge related to the amount of infrastructure it takes to serve you? Does it take many or relatively few feet of wire to deliver electricity to you? What about water pipe? Sewer pipe? Does it take a pumping station to get your sewage out of a valley?

There is no frontage charge on our utility bills in St. Louis County. So for the same amount of electricity and water usage, households located closer together subsidize households located farther apart.

Let’s take a look at Missouri American Water, the company that supplies water to St. Louis County, with the exception of Kirkwood. Missouri American Water has 4,200 miles of water mains and 31,000 fire hydrants in St. Louis County. Bills are calculated with the sum of a minimum customer charge based on water meter diameter and usage (Missouri American Water rates).

Water Infrastructure Age (From the  Our Aging Water Infrastructure  report by the Metro Water Infrastructure Partnership)

Water Infrastructure Age (From the Our Aging Water Infrastructure report by the Metro Water Infrastructure Partnership)

Our water infrastructure is aging. Much of it was created to serve the spread-out places built after World War II and is now reaching end-of-life. Previous generations kicked the can down the road when they opted not to establish an infrastructure fund to finance its inevitable need for replacement. The development choices of the past are now coming home to roost.

Recognizing the need to replace old pipes, the Missouri Legislature authorized Missouri American Water to charge customers for infrastructure replacement in 2003. Missouri American Water added a fee to bills called the Infrastructure System Replacement Surcharge (ISRS). Since its inception, Missouri American Water has spent $445 million on improvements to water distribution and hydrant upgrades in St. Louis County. The rate is $0.7642 per 1,000 gallons of water.

Here, again, there is no attempt to charge based on the amount of infrastructure needed to serve a customer—even in the fee that’s paying to replace that infrastructure. ISRS is currently suspended due to the drop in St. Louis County population in the 2010 Census.

According to the Our Aging Water Infrastructure report by the Metro Water Infrastructure Partnership, the average St. Louis County household uses 84,000 gallons of water per year (“enough to fill over seven medium-sized swimming pools”). Most of this water—about 70 percent—is used indoors in showers, toilets, faucets, washers, cooking, and food preparation. The rest is used outdoors.

If most of a household’s water is being used indoors, then water usage is shaped more by household size than it is by a home’s lot size. The takeaway: an infrastructure fee based on water usage is a poor proxy for the cost of that infrastructure.

Our Aging Water Infrastructure says it costs $1 million per mile to replace water mains. Let’s do the math and see who the winners and losers are with the ISRS rate structure:

  • $1 million per mile / 5,280 feet per mile = $189 per foot

  • Divide that by 2, since there are usually homes on both sides of the street: $189 / 2 = $95 per foot

Based on this estimate, replacing water mains costs $95 per foot. Assume the pipes last 100 years. Missouri American Water says the typical customer is charged $3.09 per month for ISRS.

  • $3.09 per month * 12 months per year * 100 years = $3,708

  • $3,708 / $95 per foot = 39 feet

The typical user is paying for 39 feet of water main, which is near the low end of house frontage in St. Louis County. This means the rate is too low for average use.

If we also factor in homes that don’t have a neighbor across the street, pipes with no customers on either side, and the fact that a 100-year lifetime is on the high end for water pipes, the rate is likely much too low.

As our places have become increasingly auto-oriented, properties have continued to spread out. The following frontage examples from around the county reflect that pattern:

  • 140 foot spacing in Chesterfield on Countryside Manor Court

  • 100 foot spacing in Ballwin on Bentshire Court

  • 89 foot spacing in Ellisville on La Dina Place

  • 60 foot spacing in Crestwood on Greenview Drive

  • 50 foot spacing in Rock Hill on Blossom Lane

  • 40 foot spacing in Richmond Heights on Goff Avenue

  • 30 foot spacing in University City on Plymouth Avenue

What might an ISRS rate based on frontage space (that doesn’t kick the infrastructure expense can to future generations) look like?

  • $95 per foot / 100 years / 12 months = 7.9 cents per month, per foot

This rate of 7.9 cents per month, per foot should be indexed with inflation of water main replacement costs. At this rate, the household in Chesterfield would be paying $11.06 per month, and the household on Plymouth would be paying $2.37 per month.

With our current system, makers have little say in decisions to create more takers. When a city in our too-fragmented region zones for sparse land uses, they are forcing others in other municipalities with no say in the decision to subsidize their choices. This is yet another example of why what happens on the other side of our municipal borders does indeed affect us.


Richard Bose is an Electrical Engineer by profession. He earned a BA in Physics and Economics and an MSEE from Washington University in St. Louis. Richard is a transplant from Central Illinois and has called St. Louis home since 1998. He is Vice President of St. Louis Strong, a board member of the Skinker DeBaliviere Community Housing Corporation, and contributor to NextSTL.com and The Times of Skinker DeBaliviere. He can be found on Twitter at @stlunite and contacted at richard@nextstl.com.


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.

Fighting for Community Development

By U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill

U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill 02.jpg

Here in Missouri I’m proud to see the great work our citizens do to help one another and improve our communities. I see Missourians and their organizations ensuring our senior citizens remain an important part of their communities, providing safe after-school spaces for our children, mentoring young men and women, and developing our neighborhoods so that Missourians of all income levels have access to affordable housing and quality communities.

In the St. Louis area, groups like Beyond Housing are providing down payment assistance to help improve homeownership rates and build the wealth of working families, contributing to the financial empowerment of low-income communities. Prosperity Connection is helping individuals and families earn economic independence through financial education, community services, and low-cost banking. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri is providing mentoring services for at-risk youth. And the Carondelet Minor Home Repair Program, run by the Carondelet Community Betterment Federation, is allowing seniors to remain in their homes, promoting aging-in-place and supporting a sense of community.

While we all take pride in and appreciate the work St. Louis area organizations and volunteers do for their communities, many of us don’t realize where the critical resources that aid their missions come from. The truth is that many of these projects, including the work done by organizations in the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis, would not be as successful without funding from Community Development Block Grants (CDBG). These grants, administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development and states like Missouri, help communities address a wide variety of needs, from providing affordable housing, to enriching the lives of our seniors, to providing nurturing spaces for our children and positive guidance for our young adults. Here in the St. Louis area, we see community-minded organizations, like the groups in the Community Builders Network, identifying community needs and creating solutions. Without these federal funds, many of these programs could not happen.

Unfortunately, the latest budget plan offered by the President’s administration cuts these grants completely. If these cuts were to become law, the Grace Hill Settlement House wouldn’t be able to run their elementary after-school program, depriving children of a safe and enriching environment. Eliminating these grants would hamper Urban Strategies, Inc.’s efforts to revitalize the Near North Side, where they are building and rehabilitating homes, providing homeownership assistance, and building public facilities. Cutting this funding would mean fewer homeless youth would be taken in by Covenant House Missouri’s Emergency Shelter Program.

I believe in using our tax dollars wisely. In the Senate I’ve made cutting wasteful spending a priority, and I share many of the same concerns about our national debt that many Missouri families do. It’s why I’ve launched investigations into wasteful defense contracting and led the charge to ban earmarks—which allowed certain members of Congress to use federal dollars for political purposes.

CDBG funding, however, targeted at communities in need, allows Missourians to focus on what’s important, and get a great return for the investment. Here in the Show Me State, these community programs show results. We see the results when families finally get into a quality home, or when a senior citizen gets to stay in theirs. We know these programs work when our kids have an enriching environment to spend time in after school, when mentoring leads to a college degree, when homeless youth are given shelter and support. We may not realize where their resources come from, but we see the programs helping our communities.

I’m supportive of these merit-based grants because I know the programs they support and I see firsthand good they do to help Missourians. I believe that Congress should continue to fully fund them. These competitive grants enable our great service organizations and their volunteers to make positive impacts in the St. Louis area and throughout the state of Missouri. We must continue to fight for and invest in our communities, because we see the results when we do.


Claire McCaskill is Missouri’s senior U.S. Senator.


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 swanstromt@umsl.edu.