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Tony Miller measured the inside of a window frame as St. Joseph Housing Initiative renovates a home in St. Louis on June 11. The initiative rehabs homes to produce quality housing for low- and moderate-income families in the St. Louis area.
Tony Miller measured the inside of a window frame as St. Joseph Housing Initiative renovates a home in St. Louis on June 11. The initiative rehabs homes to produce quality housing for low- and moderate-income families in the St. Louis area.
Photo Credit: Lisa Johnston

Housing effort responds to inequities, grows rapidly

St. Joseph Housing Initiative helps people flourish as homeowners

A two-year-old housing effort that responds to inequities and barriers for families in the St. Louis area is growing rapidly, recently adding a sixth house for rehab and a second family as homeowners.

The St. Joseph Housing Initiative is a faith-based, nonprofit entity seeking to produce quality housing for low- and moderate-income families in the St. Louis area. The program grew from conversations Archbishop Robert J. Carlson had with Bridget Flood, executive director of the Incarnate Word Foundation. The aim is to provide increased homeownership and added stability in neighborhoods with high rates of rental housing and vacancies.

Project manager Angela Drake, left, and Na’im Gray, owner of Custom Rehab, looked at plans for the addition of a second bedroom that was being framed at a house being rehabbed by St. Joseph Housing Initiative.
Photo Credits: Lisa Johnston
Flood said that owning a home lays the groundwork for not only building material wealth but also connects a person intimately with those around them, bridging the relational divides aggravated by historical segregation and social inequality. “The St. Joseph Housing Initiative addresses the key issues raised by the Forward Through Ferguson report brick by brick, person to person, community to community by emphasizing the investment we all have in ensuring our neighborhoods are places where all can make their homes and can flourish,” she said.

All six houses are in the Dutchtown neighborhood of St. Louis. Two are completed and sold, another is completed and under contract, two are under renovation and the sixth house was purchased June 4. All single-family homes had been vacant and needed work.

Maureen McCuen, executive director, said “we want to decrease vacancies in the neighborhood. Those are eyesores. It’s a good opportunity for us to both help the neighborhood and help people get into houses that are worth saving.”

The first homeowners, who moved in a year ago, are a couple with four children. The second occupied home was just purchased by a single parent with two children. All homeowners are first-time buyers. They receive support after they purchase the home through a First Neighbors program in which a team of mentors with a variety of skills help the families. Buyers also attend a homebuyer education class at no charge to the buyer.

“Through our work we are helping people get out of situations with an unresponsive landlord, roof leaking or furnace not working or inadequate plumbing. We are giving people the opportunity to get into a healthy, stable home environment,” McCuen said.

Expanding the initiative to other areas of the city is a possibility, but we want to have a few more successes before that,” McCuen said. A goal is to acquire three more properties before the end of the year.

Tower Grove Neighborhood Community Development Corporation is assisting as a consultant on property development, a partnership McCuen called invaluable. The Dutchtown South Community Corporation helps as well. Five Catholic parishes and four other Catholic entities are among the partners with St. Joseph Housing.

A grant from the Home Builders Association of St. Louis and Eastern Missouri assisted with one of the properties, a one-bedroom, long-vacant home. The grant subsidized an addition that added a bedroom to the house. “We’re extremely grateful to the association. Their grant made the difference in being able to do that project,” McCuen said.

A new policy offers $5,000 forgivable loan to all homebuyers for their down payment. Buyers also are sponsored to shop for furniture and household items at the Home Sweet Home warehouse.

>> How to Help

Though St. Joseph Housing Initiative suspended the use of volunteers due to the coronavirus pandemic, it is expected to begin needing them again soon. Help is sought with cleaning, yard clean-up, landscaping and more.

Other ways to help include making a financial contribution or donating materials or property.

To help, visit www.stjosephhousing.org, write to St. Joseph Housing Initiative, 4701 S. Grand Blvd., St. Louis, MO 63111 or call (314) 919-6176.

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