Increased homeownership and added stability in neighborhoods with high rates of rental housing are among the expected outcomes of a partnership announced July 25.
Archbishop Robert J. Carlson and the Incarnate Word Foundation announced the new housing initiative at a press conference July 25 at St. Mary’s High School. Called the St. Joseph Housing Initiative, the faith-based, non-profit start-up entity seeks to produce quality housing for low- and moderate-income families in the St. Louis area.
“It’s very, very important to have an adequate place to raise a family,” Archbishop Carlson said.
If a family lives in a home that is inadequate or rents from someone who doesn’t take care of it, that family and the neighborhood suffer, he said.
Bridget Flood, executive director of the Incarnate Word Foundation, cited the strengths of the south St. Louis neighborhoods, with its diversity, parks, walkable streets and historic housing stock.
“This initiative will build upon those strengths,” she said. “This isn’t just about homeownership. It’s also about what I call community equity — racial equity and socio-economic equity.”
Initially, the St. Joseph Housing Initiative will rehabilitate houses around the diverse Carondelet and Dutchtown neighborhoods of south St. Louis, with the goals of stabilizing the neighborhoods and helping families on the path to financial independence. The initiative will purchase and rehab the first house, likely in St. Cecilia Parish. The house will be sold after rehabbing, and is expected to be ready for occupancy by the end of the year.
The Dutchtown neighborhood is the largest in the city, with a population of 17,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Only 32 percent of houses are owner-occupied homes, below the average in St. Louis City of 43 percent and 67 percent statewide. The number of renter-occupied homes is 86 percent higher than the national average, according to the Census Bureau.
The effort seeks to preserve the neighborhoods of St. Louis and reinvigorate them into diverse, sustainable areas where low- and moderate-income families can build wealth. The work on rehabbing housing and providing a path to homeownership will rely on volunteers from the faith community.
“We have to make sure that everyone has an opportunity to create wealth,” Archbishop Carlson said. “As my parents used to say, perhaps the best investment is in a home. ... It’s a place where they can experience love and develop to their full potential.”
St. Joseph Housing is creating the First Neighbor program to match current neighborhood residents with the new homeowners to build relationships and a sense of community. This program will include a tool lending library as well as referrals to other services to help the homeowners.
St. Mary’s High School students and alumni are expected to be among the volunteers. Mike England, president of the school, said it isn’t enough to be present in a neighborhood, “we must be active.”
In St. Louis City, 32 percent of black residents own their homes compared to 56 percent of white residents, according to a 2015 study cited by “Forward Through Ferguson: A Path Toward Racial Equity,” a report from regional leaders who formed the Ferguson Commission to study racial strife and inequity. The report was a motive for the initiative.
A recently released report, “Segregation in St. Louis: Dismantling the Divide,” shows that St. Louis ranks 42nd out of 50 large metro areas for the probability of a child born in poverty to reach the top income distribution.
St. Joseph Housing responds to the Ferguson Commission report by raising income and enacting systemic change.
The name for the project was chosen to honor St. Joseph because of his role in the Holy Family and because he was a carpenter.
Esthefani Aguilar, a St. Anthony of Padua parishioner who volunteers at the food pantry there, welcomed news of the project. She lives in the neighborhood, and said her family owns its home and most of her neighbors are homeowners. “It’s a good idea to help people get homes, be safe and live in a good environment,” she said.
Sister Connie Probst, SSND, co-director of the St. Anthony Food Pantry, said home ownership, part of the American Dream, creates a connection to the neighborhood. “It also stabilizes churches,” she said, adding that St. Anthony is a “building stone” of the southside with a successful blending of nationalities.
Jimmy Lappe, a St. John the Baptist parishioner, noted that the community needs an infusion. “Mixed-income development is important in neighborhoods,” he said.
>> The supporters
The St. Joseph Housing Initiative, which is a separate charitable 501 (c) (3) organization, has support from:
• The Incarnate Word Foundation
• Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet
• Five Catholic parishes — St. Cecilia, Resurrection, St. John the Baptist, St. Anthony of Padua and St. Stephen Protomartyr
• St. Mary’s High School, which among other things is donating office space
• The Archdiocese of St. Louis
Several others expressed interest in contributing as well, and additional assistance from organizations and businesses, including banking firms, is welcome. For information, contact the Incarnate Word Foundation at (314) 773-5100.