The sounds of hammering and drills emanate from a one-story brick home on Idaho in Dutchtown near the Carondelet border. A sign for St. Joseph Housing Initiative (SJHI) is staked into the small front lawn.
SJHI was formed about a year ago with a major push from former Archbishop Robert Carlson, in partnership with the Incarnate Word Foundation and St. Mary’s High school.
It is an effort to help turn around a neighborhood that has been in decline and to help improve the financial status of good families by providing them with safe, affordable housing. Dutchtown’s crime rate is about 138% higher than the national average, part of that caused by people moving away, properties being abandoned or allowed to deteriorate by absent landlords.
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“We are focused on vacant, single-family houses in the area,” explains Maureen McCuen, SJHI Executive Director. “This house has been vacant. We purchased it, and our plan will be to have a first-time homebuyer purchase the house. When we do a renovation, we address all the major components because we are selling to first-time homebuyers who are low-to-moderate income and we want to make sure they don’t have any big surprises.”
So far in one year and in a pandemic, St. Joseph Housing Initiative has tackled seven homes: three of the houses have been sold, one is under contact and will close October 16, and three renovations are currently underway.
Sister Mary Ann Nestel, SJHI board member, says often times, the mortgage payments are less than what a family was paying in rent, often for an apartment in substandard, unsafe conditions.
The home on Idaho will sell for approximately $130,000, and the buyer gets a forgivable loan of $5,000 to help with downpayment or other expenses.
“Our goal is not just to put someone in a house, give them the keys and say goodbye,” says McCuen. “Families are required to attend homebuyer education classes, we sponsor them for the Home Sweet Home program where they can select furniture and household items, and [there’s] the First Neighbors Program.”
That program involves a team of 10 people who are neighborhood residents who will serve as mentors, to make the new family feel welcome, take them to neighborhood meetings, maybe help with lawn care and more. It helps the new family feel part of the block and keeps them from feeling overwhelmed.
“Neighborhoods are always changing,” says SJHI supporter and consultant Sean Spencer of the Tower Grove Neighborhoods Community Development Corporation. “The Dutchtown area is in dire need of more stakeholders, and those stakeholders are homeowners.”
Na’im Gray with Custom Rehabs is the general contractor. He says his values match up with SJHI: creating quality affordable housing in neighborhoods that struggle to improve, and putting good families back into good communities to help restore those neighborhoods.
“We’ve got a city that is full of historic homes that have the history of these neighborhoods locked within them,” says Gray. “The more we’re able to save what’s there the better we’re able to save our history as a city.”
SJHI relies solely on donations and local grants as well as volunteers.
The 3rd Annual Raise the Roof fundraiser will be October 18, virtual this year. Sister Mary Ann says their goal is $150,000, and they need all the help they can get to keep moving forward.