2023 St. Paul budget to help Rondo neighborhood residents displaced by I-94

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A new beginning and fresh hope in St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood following the St. Paul City Council passing the 2023 budget this week that includes money for a special inheritance fund for the Rondo coummunity.

April Lucas says she’s excited about a new program designed for former residents and their descendants.

“My brothers live here, my father lived here, I grew up here,” said Lucas, who now lives in South St. Paul with her five-year-old daughter Kyla Monae.

Lucas met with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reporter Rich Reeve outside the Central Avenue home where she grew up.

Now, she’s making plans to move back to Rondo.

“I finally feel there’s an opportunity for me to come back home,” Lucas says. “Own a home here, right next to my grandfather’s home, where we still own this home.”

Lucas says that optimism follows the approval of the new St. Paul budget that includes a $2 million inheritance fund to assist those who lost property during the construction of I-94 during the 1950s and 1960s.

“I think it’s a good foot forward, and I’m grateful,” notes Mikeya Griffin, the executive director of the non-profit Rondo Community Land Trust.

She has high hopes the fund will encourage people to reinvest in the neighborhood.

“It’s a forgivable loan for housing repair and for down payment assistance to purchase a home in the Rondo community,” Griffin explains.

The fund would provide up to $100,000 in fully forgivable loans for low-income former Rondo residents and their descendants.

The money could be used in any neighborhood in St. Paul.

Residents who decide to remain in Rondo would receive an additional $10,000.

“I’m all for that. Anything that’s going to help the viability of the Rondo community,” says David Ellis, the founder of the High School for Recording Arts in St. Paul.

“Making a pathway for affordable housing for people who historically and generationally have been involved in this community, is a great initiative.”

Ellis, who grew up in Rondo, says he was just a kid a few years after the construction of the interstate was started in 1956, and cut the neighborhood in two.

The core of Rondo was demolished, and hundreds of families were displaced.

“The stories go on and on about the businesses that were destroyed, and so many houses, I can’t even remember the number,” Ellis says.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS first spoke with St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter about his idea for an inheritance fund in September.

“There are 700 families that lost their homes,” he said at the time. “Folks who lost their businesses, folks who lost real estate, whose family inheritance was gutted.”

Carter says the freeway project devastated a thriving, active black community.

A loss, the mayor says, of $157 million in home or commercial equity.

“We’ve apologized, but our apologies won’t replace that wealth,” Carter declared. “They won’t replace those family inheritances that were taken.”

The mayor says he’s unaware of any other program like the inheritance fund.

He calls it ‘an ambitious solution to a familiar problem.’

A spokesperson says the mayor has not signed the budget yet.

The mayor’s office says roughly forty homeowners could potentially benefit from the fund.

There’s no word yet exactly how people will document their ties to Rondo.

For her part, Lucas says she plans to apply for the program, move back to Rondo with her daughter, and begin new memories.

“I can tell her the stories of how myself and her father went to school at this very school, Maxfield,” she smiles. “Just enjoy all those memories with all five of my children, but with my five-year-old, especially, it’d be great.”