Meet Aaron Thomas, Section 3 Laborer at Preservation Square in St. Louis

April 5, 2021 | McCormack Baron Salazar

Aaron Thomas is a union laborer with EAD Construction, a women and minority owned company working on the first stage of the Preservation Square revitalization project. For Mr. Thomas, Preservation Square feels very familiar. Mr. Thomas grew up in North City, not too far from the Preservation Square site. In fact, he spent the first 18 years of his life growing up in public housing, in buildings very similar to the ones he now works on. “It was rough. You can tell people are trying to make a way for themselves, unfortunately more times than not they are going in a negative direction”.

The economic opportunities provided to Mr. Thomasas a construction laborer have put him on a different path. On the Preservation Square site, he qualifies as a Section 3 employee, because of his background in public housing. Section 3 is part of the HUD funding designed to foster local economic development and neighborhood economic improvement.

“This job was very beneficial for me and my family. Just knowing my future is secure, having access to a pension and a 401(k). The money is good, the opportunities are good. I love this job because of the opportunities to learn,” said Mr. Thomas.

Mr. Thomassays the Preservation Square site is especially important because the area you grow up can really define how you think about yourself. His hope for Preservation Square is it will soon be a nice neighborhood, the type of place that people feel better just by looking around.

Mr. Thomas’ work is a part of the first phase of a project that will yield 45 new units and rehab 86 existing units. Of those, 37 units will be market rate, with the idea that residents who improve their income and lose eligibility for federal housing assistance or rent restrictions can stay in the neighborhood.

For Mr. Thomas, becoming a union laborer wasn’t always part of his plans. However, once he was given an opportunity, he took it and ran with it. “When I started I really didn’t know anything. I was able to observe and had a number of older laborers teaching me and working with me. After that first project, I understood the work and took it from there.”

At age 28, Mr. Thomasis excited to see where his career as a laborer takes him. Projects like the Preservation Square revitalization means reliable opportunities. Access to economic opportunities is not something Aaron takes for granted.

“Growing up in my neighborhood I was surrounded by negative energy, and people doing the wrong things. It was a challenge to keep my head down and avoid the drugs, gang activity, and criminal behavior. With my current job it feels good to make it out of there and have a positive future. I’m proud that I go home each evening and tell my girlfriend about how work was. I like that I can help people out with really any type of construction work.”

Mr. Thomas encourages other folks to get involved in the trades. He says he often is approached by strangers around the job site curious to learn more and find opportunities to work. 

As for Mr. Thomas, he’s staying focused on what’s in front of him. “I just hope I continue to work and continue to grow. I want to elevate to the top of my field and one day move into construction management.”

Photo of Aaron Thomas in a hard hat and safety vest on the Preservation Square construction site