The Eastside “Undevelopment”

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Students at St. Kate’s are engaging with the WTDN in a variety of classes. Here’s how our students are thinking about the issues related to housing inequality and housing segregation. Their work demonstrates “thinking in progress”. 

The Eastside “Undevelopment”

By Ava Griswold | Summer 2020

Today, the Eastside of St. Paul is recognized as a welcoming neighborhood with a vibrant and diverse population. Historically this neighborhood has welcomed immigrants from all over the world, but in 1951 the neighbors rejected efforts of diversifying their neighborhood. 

After World War II, a national housing crisis developed, and in the Twin Cities, Black residents were most affected by this crisis. Racial covenants further complicated things for Black residents, as these covenants prevented them from buying and renting homes in most areas of the Twin Cities. The housing conditions for Black residents were incredibly poor and neighborhoods lacked necessary community services. In the late 1940s, these housing conditions became a public concern when Governor Youngdahl recruited the Governor’s Interracial Commission to conduct surveys on Black housing conditions. The findings of these surveys were recorded in a serious of yearly reports titled “The Negro and His Home in Minnesota”. 

Front Cover of “The Negro and His Home in Minnesota” a report on the housing conditions of Black Minnesotans. 

The results of these surveys clearly demonstrated that Black residents were facing poor housing conditions. They were living in some of the worst conditions in the state because of racial covenants which barred them from living in many areas and becoming homeowners. The report states that Black people in Minnesota are “involuntarily separated” in their own neighborhoods. The report also says, “The Negro’s lot is different. His freedom is drastically restricted. There are only two or three areas opened to him.” (1)

In an effort to remedy these disparaging housing statistics, both federal and state governments began to roll out public housing programs, many of which were aimed at Black Americans. In 1951, a proposed low rent housing development on St. Paul’s Eastside was slated to begin construction. This development was part of a Minnesota public housing initiative aimed to help offset the housing inequality caused by racial covenants. For the project to be approved, the city council was required to vote on zoning laws that would allow this development to be occupied. The project had been proposed three times prior to the city council, and each time it had been rejected. 

St. Paul Recorder, May 18, 1951. via MNHS Digital Newspaper Hub

The St. Paul Recorder published an article in 1951 stating that over 600 white Eastside residents showed up to oppose a meeting to oppose the change in zoning laws that would allow this development to be built (2).

Racist Remarks Eastsiders used to discourage the new development. 

Many used racist language in hopes of keeping this development from being built, trying to scare other Eastsiders by playing into racist, untrue stereotypes. Others worried that this development would depreciate the value of their property. These were just some of the tactics used by white people to exclude people of color from their neighborhoods. When it came time for the city council vote, the motion was rejected as a direct result of white Eastsiders’ actions. 

The events that transpired in 1951 are just one of many examples of the housing discrimination that runs rampant in the Twin Cities. Today, the Twin Cities has the largest disparity in homeownership from white to Black residents, revealing that the legacy of these events still lingers today.

Sources/Further Reading:

  1.  The Governor’s Interracial Commission, The Negro and His Home in Minnesota (1947).
  2.  “St. Paul Eastsiders in Stiff Protest Against Housing Project Site,” St. Paul Recorder, May 18, 1951, Minnesota Historical Society Digital Newspaper Hub.