St. Louis Residents Fight to Keep Spy Agency From Taking Their Homes

By Juan Thompson

North St. Louis is grappling with many problems: underperforming schools, a stubbornly-high murder rate, lack of good jobs, dirty vacant lots and now the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.

The NGA, a lesser-known cousin of the National Security Agency, has long had facilities in South St. Louis located a short walk from the historic Anheuser-Busch Brewery. But the NGA is now looking to move and has narrowed its list of possible new locations to four, including one in North St. Louis that would require the demolition of 47 homes.

Not surprisingly, North St. Louis residents are not welcoming the NGA with a fruit basket. On Wednesday the local organization Save North Side STL delivered a petition with nearly 100,000 signatures to the NGA asking it to remove their neighborhood from consideration.

The charge is led by 79-year-old Charlesetta Taylor, who has lived in one of the threatened homes for the past 70 years. “We were the first black family on this block,” she told me during a phone conversation. “It was in 1945. Black families couldn’t live in certain areas but my father was able to buy the house anyway.”

“I don’t know what the NGA does exactly,” added Taylor, “but it sounds bad.”

Many of the 46 other threatened homes also belong to elderly residents. 

The city says the spy agency brings delivers about $2.4 million in tax revenue every year. None of the other three possible locations are located within city limits.

In February the board of alderman — St. Louis’ version of a city council — passed an ordinance that designated Taylor’s community a blighted area. With the area now considered ruined, the city may use eminent domain to seize the property. Shortly after the ordinance’s passage the residents, including Taylor, received letters notifying them of the city’s interest in acquiring their property. If the city does take the homes, residents like Taylor would, of course, be compensated.

But they don’t want the money.

“This isn’t about money. Money can’t buy everything,” Taylor said. “Money can’t replace my memories and the three generations that grew up in this big old house.”

Photo: Save Northside STL/Facebook

Email the author: juan@theintercept.com