Focus on People: A Profile of Ebonie Walls, Resident, North Sarah Apartments, St. Louis, Missouri

February 14, 2013 | McCormack Baron Salazar

Central to all we do at McCormack Baron Salazar is our focus on people –our residents and their families, our employees, and all the folks who help make our communities home.  Our series of resident profiles aims to introduce some of the remarkable people who inspire us to do what we do.

In the summer of 2012, Ebonie Walls was making progress. She had a new car, a new job, and a new degree in medical assisting. That's when she heard: she and her 9-year-old daughter were going to have to find a new place to live, too.

They'd been living in the high-rise apartment building at 3501 Franklin, the last of St. Louis's Pruitt-Igoe era residential towers, now widely understood as a failed model for public housing. At last, after 45 years, 3501 Franklin was closing its doors.

"It was a blessing," Ebonie says, sitting in her new living room.

Ebonie was one of many 3501 Franklin residents to relocate to North Sarah, which was funded in part by a Hope VI grant from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, and represents a new model for urban revitalization that incorporates public housing into networked, mixed-income communities.

Now, she and her daughter share a neatly landscaped townhouse, all their own. "I stand outside sometimes just looking," Ebonie says, "like, 'oh, this is fresh air'."

Ebonie grew up in the surrounding neighborhoods, one of four kids raised by a single mother. When her brother was killed at age 25, she stayed on: "It was not always a great neighborhood. [But] since they've been building these houses, it's gotten a lot better. That's a blessing, too."

During her transition to North Sarah, she worked with the non-profit community-development organization Urban Strategies to qualify for residency and prepare to care for her home. Other North Sarah residents received job training and placement assistance, parenting education, and help securing transportation and childcare, all in service of establishing a self-sustaining neighborhood at North Sarah.

Now, when Ebonie comes home from her work near midnight, she doesn't worry. "You can just walk out your door," she says. "No boards on the windows."

There's a playground for her daughter on the corner, a grocery store down the street, a shopping mall, a gas station, and a car wash. "You can get on the bus if you don't have a car – the bus route is right there," she boasts.

Of course, Ebonie has earned the good fortune her family is enjoying now. "I worked a long time," she says. "I used to be the type who was like, 'Why do good things never happen to me?' The lord was telling me to wait my turn. He ain't forgot about me. I think this is gonna be the house my baby grew up in."