- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

CLAYTON, Mo. (AP) - St. Louis County will receive $24 million to aid community betterment projects in distressed areas, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said Wednesday.

HUD Secretary Julian Castro was in Clayton to announce that award and another $2.4 million to help north St. Louis County communities damaged by tornadoes and severe storms in 2013.

The $24 million from HUD’s Community Development Block Grant program will establish a loan pool for things such as housing improvements, entrepreneurship support and increasing transit options. Much of the money is expected to be spent in north St. Louis County, including Ferguson, where economic disparity between blacks and whites became a focal point during unrest that followed the fatal shooting of Michael Brown by a Ferguson officer in 2014.

“Today’s announcement reflects a simple truth: We believe in this area, its people and its future,” Castro said.

St. Louis County Executive Steve Stenger said the funding “will advance our mission to address poverty and disparity.”

“There will certainly be a good deal of the money invested in Ferguson,” he said.

The other money comes from the agency’s Declared Disaster Recovery Fund, and is meant to help residents and businesses - including Lambert-St. Louis International Airport - that were affected by tornadoes and severe storms that ripped through the northern portion of the county on July 18, 2013.

It was the second time in four months that Castro has visited the county to announce aid for impoverished areas.

In April, the St. Louis area was among eight areas designed as Promise Zones under an Obama administration program that seeks to revitalize high-poverty communities. The Promise Zone designation does not include any direct federal money but gives the designated area a leg up in obtaining federal assistance.

The St. Louis Promise Zone includes mostly-black areas of St. Louis city and county, where unemployment and violent crime rates are high and there are low-performing schools.

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