Saving historic homes and providing new housing is important to the future of St. Louis neighborhoods, but even more important is building a sense of community.This is exactly what is taking place in the Hyde Park Neighborhood.
In 2000, Michelle Duffe of ND Consulting Group was hired by the Hyde Park Housing Corporation to design a plan for an area that was bounded by north Florissant, Palm and Salisbury.
The reason for focusing on this particular triangle is that it was almost all vacant LRA property. "So it was different from other parts of the neighborhood that still had a fair number of structures in them." says Duffe.
While in the planning process, Duffe called stakeholders in the area to interview them for the study. One of them was Bethlehem Lutheran Church lead by Rev. Schmidtke. As synchronicity would have it, Rev. Schmidtke told her that they had just formed a housing corporation Better Living Communities and would love to talk with her. That conversation began a partnership that is still ongoing.
They submitted and received funding on their first project which was called Salisbury 1 consisting of sixteen homes. Since then, with Better Living Communities, Duffe has submitted Salisbury 2, 3, Bremen and coming up this month, will submit a project called Blair Homes.
"We have people on a waiting list wanting to get into a new home. We have two City employees from Forestry, one police officer, a sheriff in four of the rehabs. We would love to have more City employees come to live here. We want people to know that these are really nice homes." says Duffe.
The new homes are around 1400 – 1500 square feet, three bedrooms, and two baths and are Low Income Tax Credit based. This means that if you meet the initial income guidelines and are approved, your rent will always remain affordable, only rising based on inflation.This is not a program where you are penalized for making more money. It allows for tenants to find better paying jobs and increase their financial stability. Low Income Tax Credit homes allow tenants to grow into home ownership by making affordable payments, learning how to maintain the home and to financially prepare for eventual purchase once the 15 year compliance period is over. Those interested can add their name to the waiting list at ND & S Management Company located at 2301 Salisbury. Most of the qualified are at the 60% mean area income.
"The whole objective of all these single family homes is to increase owner occupancy in the Hyde Park Neighborhood. If we don't achieve that, then we will have failed in what we consider our initial goal. So we are very focused on trying to get the tenants moved along in a continuum to be home owners." says Duffe.
The challenge is getting the tenants prepared for homeownership. How do you take care of a home? Never having been a homeowner, this may not fall into your skill set. This is another aspect of working with the eventual homeowners. ND & S Management Company maintenance workers are also part of the education process. "Our maintenance people; when they are in the houses, changing the filters for example, explain why you have to change the filters 3-4 times a year," says Duffe.
"Tenants also have to make sure their credit score will allow them to borrow when they are ready to buy, even though the price won't be anywhere near what it cost us to build the house, they still have to be able to borrow that amount." states Duffe.
To prepare the tenants financially, Duffe uses Justine Petersen, a non-for profit that has assisted over 4,000 families to purchase homes in the St. Louis area. Most of their clients are first generation home buyers. "We will start the process when people are in about their 9th year of renting, so that they have a good 6 years to work on their credit scores and get better at budgeting," explains Duffe.
Homeownership invests the tenants in the community. "The tenants tell us how safe they feel. Because they have neighbors, they're getting to know each other, they know us and they know the police. When you have this kind of reinvestment in a neighborhood, there is more attention paid.The Police are more involved in the neighborhood. The LRA, Building Division, Forestry, Streets, everyone has assisted in making this project come together and look good. People drive by they think, 'Wow, this has really changed in 10 years,'" says Duffe.
"You change the dynamic of the neighborhood. It used to be primarily owner occupants, now most rent, we have to change that. I think we're helping. It doesn't mean that one person, who can't do 10 buildings at a time, can't come in and do one building and maybe move in. If they begin to see that it's a live neighborhood, I think that will happen," says Duffe.
Businesses and organizations are beginning to see it as a live neighborhood, moving in and bring economic growth to Hyde Park.
"We renovated the building at Salisbury and Blair, 1435 Salisbury. It was on Landmarks Endangered List, it's a beautiful building, commercial down, residential above," says Duffe. The surrounding empty lots are optioned, pending the securing of financing, from the City's Land Reutilization Authority (LRA).
Sun Ministries is opening Sun Café with a music venue in the commercial space at 1435 Salisbury. The new cafe will feature coffee, Ice-cream, breakfast and lunch. It will also provide retail space for the products made in their Opportunity Center. Cornerstone Café is across the street, making this little area ripe to become a commercial district. There is also an artist group interested in finding their place in the Hyde Park Community.
As businesses' continue to move in and renters become homeowners, the investment in Hyde Park will deliver, in return, a growingly diverse and close community.