‘St. Louis is a slum city’

Mill Creek housing, circa 1948

The wholesale demolition of Mill Creek, the elimination of historic structures along the riverfront and urban renewal share a dark legacy in St. Louis. But long-forgotten is the wretched condition of most of the city’s housing stock immediately after World War II, when one out of every three residences lacked a toilet or bath.

Only five major cities — all in the South — were worse off, the Federal Housing Administration and the U.S. Census found.

In this editorial, published on Jan. 7, 1948, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch took note of that sorry finding, but offered an explanation of how things had gotten so bad. An excerpt:

“The only housing policy St. Louis has had is to abandon old areas and to move to a fringe of new areas. This has been done successively over the years until obsolete and blighted districts embrace half the city’s residential area. The earlier homes have not been modernized and equipped with conveniences and sanitary facilities. On the contrary, they have been allowed to deteriorate steadily. Yet their owners have not pulled them down to make way for new dwellings. They have preferred to get all they could from renters who could not afford to move to the new areas.

“And so in 1948 St. Louis stands 105 among 108 American cities in housing. That is the price of allowing the grasping real estate owners and operators to run this side of the city’s life as suits their own pocketbooks.”

St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial, published Jan. 7, 1948.

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