It has been common knowledge for a long time that social engineering is a favorite tactic of liberals. They love to put square pegs in round holes. School desegregation by forced busing is one infamous example. But what happens when city and county government collude to force public housing on unsuspecting residents?
“Spanish Lake” is a film produced by Spanish Lake native, Philip Andrew Morton. It tells the story of the small municipality twelve miles from downtown St. Louis, Missouri. It has a rich history, being near the confluence of the Missouri and Mississippi rivers. Nearby Fort Bellefontaine was a starting point for many westward expeditions at America’s infancy. Lewis and Clark spent their first night outside of St. Louis near the Fort and Spanish Lake.
For many years, it was a rural farming community. After World War II, it started to fill up with soldiers returning home and their young families. Entire subdivisions went up almost overnight, and close knit neighborhoods were born.
Spanish Lake was idyllic, practically Mayberry. A place where everyone knew their neighbors. All of the children played together. People were fond of saying, “We don’t lock our doors”. A place where middle class families could live out the American dream.
In the late sixties, twelve miles down the road in St. Louis, large public housing complexes were slowly crumbling. They were breeding grounds for crime and chronic poverty. One of the worst was a fifty million dollar failed public housing boondoggle called Pruitt-Igoe.
The powers that be in St. Louis knew there was no hope of rehabilitation for places like Pruitt-Igoe. They were going to have to be torn down. But where would all of those people go?
Enter Spanish Lake. A small community with one big problem. It was in an unincorporated part of St. Louis County. This meant there was no overreaching city government to contend with for those who looked to North St. Louis County as the perfect landing place for displaced city public housing residents.
The film follows the timeline from HUD offering big incentives to cities like St. Louis to improve their public housing beginning in the late sixties, to the implementation of Section 8 legislation in the mid-seventies. As more inner city blacks and low income residents moved from the city to the county, sprawling apartment complexes were built to accommodate the city exodus. At one point there were more apartment units per capita in North St. Louis County than anywhere else in the region.
Homeowners were not faring much better. As apartment complexes filled up with new renters, residents feared for the value of their homes, and the seeds of “white flight” were planted. Although homeowners were selling their homes for more than the asking price, realty companies steered potential minority home buyers to the area. Home buyers armed with low interest government loans.
As this combination mixed together, long time Spanish Lake residents saw the community they grew up in, that had once been full of family owned successful businesses, start to dry up. The apartment complexes became low rise imitations of their high rise city cousins that no longer existed, full of drugs, crime, and poverty.
Ultimately, the residents of Spanish Lake were punished in a way, punished because they did not want city government telling them what to do with their houses and property. It was that lack of structure that became their downfall.
Bits and pieces of the of the way Spanish Lake used to be may be returning. Big apartment complexes are under new management, with stringent screening procedures for tenants, curfews, and security. Because of this, there are signs that people may be returning to Spanish Lake to buy homes.
Morton returns to his childhood home to meet the woman who now lives there. It is a small, well kept home, and the young African-American woman, Paris, greeted Morton warmly as he walked up the drive. It is because of people like her that new life may be breathed into a community that many people are still very skeptical about.
It is a warning about big government, be it city, county, or federal. If they really want a piece of you bad enough, can they just seize it without warning? Not instantly, but gradually, little by little, before you realize it.
If it happened in Spanish Lake, it can happen anywhere.