Jim Crow and the CRA program

Dear Editor:

As many of you know, south St. Petersburg has been in the process of revitalization for quite some time. From the unearthing of slaves and pioneers buried in the historic Moffitt Cemetery, which is now Tropicana Field, to the Community Redevelopment Area initiative or (CRA) program.

These improvement measures along with countless of other less popular initiatives have yet to benefit local African-American residents. Beginning with the latest improvement measure, the CRA is a taxpayer-funded initiative that has yet to benefit the local residents.

The application process, for example, is subject to the scrutiny of nonresident administrators who aim to disburse tax funds based on a set criterion, which includes terms such as “top tier applicants” and “grant scoring system.”

These terms—though standard and even systemic to private entities such as banks and loan companies who seek the best possible investment for a greater return—are no way inclusive to residents who actually fund the program. In fact, these terms have a history of excluding minority investors and citizens who apply for loans, credit cards and jobs in many cases.

The grant process of the CRA has been designed to exclude the most needy tax paying resident of south St. Pete. For example, if all you have is an occupational license or any license that qualifies you to work independently and you live within the CRA district—which means you pay taxes into the program—you still do not qualify for CRA grant funding to start your business because you have not been operational for at least two years.

Similar in nature is the home improvement initiative within the program that stipulates you must spend $10,000 for repairs to qualify for the “Rehab Rebate” initiative within the CRA.

These discriminatory measures are similar in nature to Old South voting requirements during the Jim Crow era that included a literacy test or a “guess test” for African Americans. The guess test required black people to guess the amount of beans that were in a readily displayed jar in order to vote.

During the Jim Crow South, it was not enough that blacks were born tax paying citizens of the United States, but they were subject to unreasonable tests and requirements that were designed to exclude them from the voting process, which is similar in nature to how the CRA “grant scoring system or top tier applicants” excludes tax paying residents in the community who will disproportionally fail to meet grant qualifications under the plan.

Typically, when we think of grant funding we think in terms of funds allotted to the neediest city, state or individual with no requirement to pay back funds; in fact, the more “dire” the need, the more funding is available. However, this is not true with this CRA grant program, which awards grants to already successful businesses within the district and incentivizes multi-million dollar home investors to gentrify south St. Pete.

Chico Cromartie

Chico Cromartie

As disturbing as these facts may be, many local African Americans have not relied on local, state or federal funds to maintain the integrity that they undoubtedly possess. Even with all the odds stacked up against black residents, the spirit of perseverance continues to be evident with every display of goodwill, kindness and service to one another.

In spite of every lie, disappointment and scheme that blacks residents have been subjected to, there seems to be no stopping the African-American work ethic or progressive mindset.

Chico Cromartie

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