A St. Louis student lived in this northside home, just last year. Today, it sits vacant and abandoned because our City government punishes people in poverty rather than funding our schools.
The low-income former owners of this home owed no mortgage; the house was paid off decades ago. They were simply unable to afford their real estate taxes, which provide funding for our schools. Instead of lowering the taxes to an affordable rate so that the property could remain on the tax rolls and still provide some money for public education, state statute dictates the property be auctioned off. This is not an isolated, out-of-the-ordinary situation; dozens of northside families in St. Louis City face this same fate every year.
We push low-income homeowners out of their homes, uproot the family, and displace the students, often forcing them to change schools and fall behind on their studies. Even when a property sent to auction fetches zero bids from auction-goers, the property is given to the St. Louis Land Reutilization Authority by default. Management of the property is then turned over to Eagle Realty, a company owned by a wealthy developer. Instead of working with homeowners (many of whom inherited these properties as their only asset), Eagle Realty takes taxpayer money—which should go to our public schools—to evict the homeowner and the board the house up. Yes, we are paying the rich to displace the poor and defund our schools. As long as we continue boarding up the houses of our most marginalized citizens, we will continue boarding up schools in the neighborhoods that need them most.
This photograph symbolizes so many things wrong with our educational system. The large sheet of notebook paper encourages our student to perform well on the MAP test, a standardized test which is given at the end of every school year to assess student performance. It is accompanied by notes on test-taking skills. The pencil sharpener mounted on the wall suggests a parent who was dedicated to their child’s academic success. How can we expect our low-income students to achieve high test scores when we treat their families like second-class citizens?
Keeping our neighborhood schools open should be a top priority. But it seems that St. Louis City prefers to use our schools as warehouses for children in order to fatten the pockets of the privileged and politically-connected, while depriving our kids of the comfort of a stable home environment. Our children suffer mentally, emotionally, and academically with each and every move to a new housing situation. Imagine how much worse that trauma is when the Sheriff’s deputies arrive, ordering them to vacate their longtime family home where a lifetime of memories was made. Imagine how this shapes a child’s view of law enforcement.
It’s time we start investing in our students by keeping SLPS families where they want to be. We must stabilize our neighborhoods in order to strengthen our schools.