New Life in the Ville

One of the city’s truly great neighborhoods is seeing reinvestment after decades of neglect. Plans for 43 new and renovated housing units in the Ville will be one step closer to fruition once the city’s Planning Commission approves zoning changes this Wednesday. Northside Community Housing is partnering with Rise Community Development on the $10.3 million development at North Sarah and St. Ferdinand Ave about half a mile north of McCormack Baron Salazar’s successful North Sarah redevelopment.

A rendering shows a proposed new construction four-family building. The two- story units each will have a separate entrance along N. Sarah, three bedrooms, two bathrooms, plus off-street parking in back. Next door, Northside Community Housing will renovate the vacant Star Laundry building. That building will include a ground-floor leasing office and community space with additional residential units upstairs. Additional housing will extend down St. Ferdinand to the east for a total of nine new and three renovated buildings. The project is financed with support from Missouri Housing Development Commission Low Income Housing Tax Credits.

Before the US Supreme Court struck down restrictive housing covenants that barred people of color from living in many neighborhoods, the Ville had the center of black culture in St. Louis. Teachers at Sumner High School mingled with doctors at Homer G. Phillips Hospital, a black teaching hospital. A large and educated black middle class built houses and apartments, built businesses and built families in the Ville. The small North St. Louis neighborhood has had an outsized impact on American culture. Among others, Chuck Berry, Arthur Ashe, Dick Gregory and Josephine Baker all called the Ville home.

A falling population, crime and disinvestment like the closing of Homer G. Phillips have taken a toll on the Ville. Median household income in the Ville is now more than 60 percent below the state average. The neighborhood’s population declined by 25 percent between 2000 and 2010 and continues to fall. Although more than one in three housing units in the Ville currently is unoccupied, quality affordable housing has been in high demand.