Member Stories

Community Development at Work: Justine PETERSEN

Justine PETERSEN Connects Residents & Business Owners in Underserved Communities with Opportunities to Thrive

Justine PETERSEN.png

Justine PETERSEN (JP) is one of the most renowned local credit-lending institutions in St. Louis. The organization first began its impact on the St. Louis community through affordable housing and homeownership counseling. JP has since expanded its products and services and is currently grounded on three specific pillars: micro-enterprise technical assistance and lending, homeownership counseling, and credit building counseling and financial education.

The organization focuses on five main strategic goals:

  • Increase opportunity for low- to moderate-income entrepreneurs to start their own businesses.

  • Increase homeownership through counseling and working with banks to create more accessible products.

  • Provide credit building counseling and develop products aligned with credit building.

  • Rehabilitate and sell homes to income-qualified buyers.

  • Expand JP’s industry and organizational capacity through staff development, talent management, succession, and sustainability.

CBN recently had the opportunity to sit down with a team member of Justine PETERSEN, Katie Arnold. Katie has been the Grants Manager at Justine PETERSEN since 2014. She’s part of an integral, three-person development team at JP. Katie and her team are responsible for managing JP’s large grant portfolio.

Katie Arnold (right) with her JP teammate, Constance Siu (left), Resource Development Associate

When asked about the impact that JP has had in the St. Louis community, Katie shared the organization’s impact on leading conversations with the St. Louis Equal Housing and Community Reinvestment Alliance (SLEHCRA), of which JP is a founding member. SLEHCRA is the area’s local coalition that focuses on promoting investments in low-income and minority communities as required by the Community Reinvestment Act. Katie also emphasized the impact that JP has had on credit building in the community through the provision of various credit-led financial products as well as counseling services. JP has also played a substantial role in investing in new and existing businesses in the St. Louis area with the hope of creating a ripple effect of economic development.

The organization has undergone several new projects since its inception. In 2013, JP established a new location in Granite City, Illinois. In addition to offering JP’s full line of services to Illinois clients, JP housing counselors also assist Illinois homeowners facing foreclosure through Illinois’s Hardest Fit Fund. Five years after establishing a Granite City location, the JP office has moved to a ground-level coworking space that provides more exposure to the community.

Red of Red’s BBQ talks about his experiences as part of a panel held at Justine PETERSEN’s office during Missouri’s Small Business Week

Another major project that JP is endeavoring in is enhancing its for-profit CDFI, Great Rivers Community Capital. The CDFI specifically provides affordable financing to low- and moderate-income underserved populations. JP received a CDFI Fund Award of one million dollars in 2017 to spearhead this project.

The role and the significant impact of Justine PETERSEN truly emerges from the relationship between its employees and needs of the community. In her role, Katie hopes to foster additional relationships with local CRA officers and bankers. And among her JP teammates, she hopes to generate more team-building and enhance team communication.

Justine PETERSEN has been a CBN member since winning the 2017 Award for Excellence in Lending at the CBN Awards Reception. Just like the work their team produces, JP has been a collaborative and innovative partner within the CBN network.

Justine PETERSEN was honored at the Illinois Department of Human Rights’ Fair Housing Celebration in April 2018

Written by Melanie Liu, CBN Practicum Student

Community Development at Work: Mt. Sinai Development Corporation

Mt. Sinai Development Corporation Harnesses Local Power and Partnerships to Foster a Vibrant Community

Dennis Jackson, Executive Director of Sinai Family Life Center

Mt. Sinai Development Corporation, part of the Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in East St. Louis, has been working for decades to leverage partnerships and community strengths to increase development and opportunities for residents within their footprint. Dennis Jackson plays a lead role in Mt. Sinai’s development projects and has been an important part of the Mt. Sinai team for many years. He sees the challenges and the potential of this area that had been all but abandoned by developers and whose residents lack opportunities that many other communities take for granted. Through the Mt. Sinai Baptist Church and Development Corporation, Jackson has been instrumental in bringing a number of new developments to the area.

After spearheading the development of a senior residential facility right across the street from the church, Mt. Sinai added two low-income housing developments in the blocks around the church. They have worked to keep as many existing residents in their homes as possible—before, during and after construction—to help keep the community intact. They have also provided support for existing homeowners to renovate their homes, which they believe will help the overall value of the neighborhood. There is a great deal of work left to do for this neighborhood and Jackson is motivated and committed to doing his part.

Sinai Village Phase II affordable housing development project

Mt. Sinai was given a large building in the neighborhood in which Jackson sees a great deal of potential and believes could be a community center or other community anchor in the future. In addition to housing developments, Mt. Sinai believes it is important to provide some of the services that the residents need to thrive. Jackson and his team understand that new housing doesn’t build a community or serve all of the needs of its residents, and they place a great deal of importance on meeting those needs and nurturing that community.

Sinai Family Life Center Summer Day Camp for youth

Seeing that Mt. Sinai cannot meet all of the needs of the community alone, Jackson is currently working with a number of banks, non-profits, and other funders to seek ways to increase investment in the area. One of the big challenges for Jackson and others seeking to increase development and resources for residents in East St. Louis is securing funding, tax credits, and other development-supporting ventures in a city with little cohesion and no comprehensive plan. While East St. Louis has plans, they are not active, and many people do not know they exist. Mt. Sinaiis therefore seeking partnerships and funding to work toward a comprehensive plan that could help not just Mt. Sinai but other communities in East St. Louis.

An important partner for Jackson and Mt. Sinai is East Side Aligned, a collaborative effort to improve the lives of children in East St. Louis. Jackson strongly believes in the importance of childhood development and sees great potential in the way that East Side Aligned has been able to bring together a number of different organizations and people involved with helping children.

The East St. Louis community and its residents have come a long way in the past couple of decades. While many challenges remain, Mt. Sinai Development Corporation is ready to tackle them while improving the well-being of their residents.

Written by Kathleen Redmon, CBN Practicum Student

Community Development at Work: The St. Louis CDFI Coalition

The St. Louis CDFI Coalition: Investing for Equity

St. Louis CDFI Coalition member organization representatives

Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) were created by the Department of the Treasury to serve communities that traditional financial institutions overlook. Mission-driven and financially flexible, CDFIs invest in communities with low incomes, the nonprofits that serve them, and small business entrepreneurs.

Many associate CDFIs with client-specific financial services, but CDFIs also help entire communities thrive with investments that expand access to opportunity. Local CDFIs have been key to connecting St. Louis’ underserved communities to critical resources, including healthcare, healthy foods, quality education, and affordable homes.

The St. Louis CDFI Coalition was formed in 2015 to help build a more equitable St. Louis through deep, creative systems-level investments. More specifically, the Coalition seeks to address the Ferguson Commission Report’s Calls to Action, which outlined greater investment in local CDFIs as a critical strategy to advancing racial equity in the region. The Coalition’s current members include Alliance Credit UnionGateway CDFIIFFInternational Institute CDCJustine Petersen, and St. Louis Community Credit Union, with two new organizational members expected in 2018.

The Coalition’s micro-lenders offer critical capital to growing small businesses in low-income and immigrant communities. The group’s real estate lenders support nonprofits and grocery stores and transform vacant buildings into affordable homes. Credit union members build wealth and credit for low-income individuals. Collectively, the Coalition’s work serves constituents on both an individual and collective level, from their most personal needs to the physical and economic infrastructures necessary to ensure their communities thrive.

CDFIs also invest in specific issue areas. For instance, IFF has managed two Healthy Food Financing Initiatives, designed to increase the financial resources and technical assistance available for businesses and nonprofits to open grocery stores in communities without fresh, healthy foods. Proactive investments like these fundamentally shift the feedback loop that governs a system’s rules and dynamics: they create jobs in economically distressed places, empower residents financially, and support better health outcomes for entire populations.

The CDFI Coalition believes that development for community benefit is a systemic effort, and that CDFIs can and must serve individuals and nonprofits while also investing in key elements that underpin the systems in which they live and operate. The Ferguson Commission Report calls for CDFIs and other community institutions to apply both approaches to push St. Louis toward a state of racial equity. The CDFI Coalition leverages the Report’s road map to guide its individual and collective investments and plans to continue deepening its engagement with the Calls to Action in 2018.

Below are photos from the CDFI Coalition’s strategic planning session in September 2017.

If you’d like to learn more about what the CDFI Coalition is doing, please feel free to reach out to one of the Coalition staff members or one of the member organizations below.

Coalition Staff

CBN
Gary Newcomer, Community Development Specialist
gary@communitybuildersstl.org

IFF
Breigh Montgomery, Associate
bmontgomery@iff.org

Member Organizations

Alliance Credit Union
Frank Evans, VP – Human Resources
fevans@alliancecu.com

Gateway CDFI
Colleen Hafner, Asset Manager
colleenhafner@slefi.com

IFF
David Desai-Ramirez, Executive Director – Southern Region
ddesairamirez@iff.org

International Institute CDC
Diego Abente, VP & Director
abented@iistl.org

Justine PETERSEN
Galen Gondolfi, Chief Communications Officer
ggondolfi@justinepetersen.org

St. Louis Community Credit Union
Maria Langston, AVP – Community Development
maria.langston@stlouiscommunity.com

Written by Breigh Montgomery, Associate at IFF

Community Development at Work: Granite City

Granite City Cinema: Where Industry and Art Meet

Granite City Cinema

Granite City Cinema

When Granite City Mayor Ed Hagnauer was canvassing for Mayor in early 2005, he noticed a need for his community. Door after door, young folks and senior citizens alike voiced concern that there was no movie theater within the city limits of Granite City. Residents of the city had to drive upwards of 15-20 miles outside of the city just to reach the nearest movie theater.

After close collaboration with the city’s Economic Development Director, John Ferry, and Trivers Associates Architects, the City realized its vision of bringing a local movie theater to its streets. Granite City Cinema opened in August 2010 at 1243 Niedringhaus Avenue, and it is far more than your typical movie theater.

First, the movie theater is entirely City-owned and operated. As the City and its partners got started with the project, they realized that the downtown Granite City TIF was accumulating money, underutilized, and almost at its expiration date. So the Mayor’s Office partnered with two state senators and three state representatives to grant their TIF a 13-year extension. This allowed the City to purchase and renovate a debilitating property, two blocks from City Hall, laying the groundwork for the current theater.

Now playing

In keeping with the city’s mantra, “Where Industry and Art Meet,” locally made steel comprises a majority of the constructed theater. Granite City Cinema creates a sense of nostalgia for the city, purposely resembling the historic Washington Theater that was popular in the 1960s and 70s. The theater has three screens and presents to the community a unique opportunity for a mixture of uses. Local businesses rent out space for meetings; religious groups reserve a theater screen and then walk to the nearby Wilson Park; high school sports teams reserve the theater for special celebrations. The theater is well-maintained by 10-12 city employees, most of whom live in the community and are dedicated to creating a welcoming community and bringing the mission of Granite City to life.

Since its inception, Granite City Cinema has been a huge success for the city. Averaging about 55,000 patrons per year and growing, this local theater attracts people to Granite City’s historic downtown. The added vibrancy around Granite City Cinema battles negative perceptions of the community that are tied to economic downturns in steel production.

Concessions

When asked about Granite City’s future development, Mayor Hagnauer expressed excitement and deep pride for his city. He noted an initiative led by the City’s Economic Development Department called Grow Granite, which brings together public citizens and private entities to plan for economic growth. At the first Grow Granite meeting, more than 125 city residents brainstormed ways to affect sustainable housing, brand the city’s image, and enhance the school district.

The story of Granite City Cinema is a story of what can happen when a community builds on its assets to meet the needs of its residents. The theater is uniquely sustainable and shows everyone that Granite City is more than just a success of the past. Thanks to inspired community effort from steering committees and the Mayor’s office alike, Granite City hopes to continue expanding to become the perfect intersection for art and industry.

Showtime!

Written by Brendan East, CBN Practicum Student

Community Development at Work: Executive Director of Planning and Urban Design Don Roe

Want to Change Lives? Come Work in St. Louis, says Executive Director of Planning and Urban Design Don Roe

Don Roe at CBN’s 5th Annual Awards Reception in April 2017

Don Roe at CBN’s 5th Annual Awards Reception in April 2017

When Don Roe moved to St. Louis from Boulder, Colorado in 1988, it was for a temporary consulting contract to work as an Airport Planner for Lambert Airport. He did not expect to stay longer than two years.

Now, almost three decades later, Roe is still here, with more than a few stories to tell.

Shortly after arriving in St. Louis, while waiting for his contract with the airport to start, Roe began doing consulting work on new neighborhood plans for then-Mayor Vince Schoemehl. That led to his involvement with Operation Conserv, a project that was profiling 13 city neighborhoods as part of an effort to adopt a more holistic approach to neighborhood development and build resident confidence.

At the time, Roe had “put his life on hold” back in Colorado, where he had been working with Frontier Airlines as a planning representative, negotiating deals with small towns and city councils throughout the state. He had not intended to make St. Louis his home.

But Roe ultimately decided to stay, and he worked as a General Planner for the City of St. Louis through the 1990s. In 1999, the City created the Planning and Urban Design Agency as St. Louis’ first standalone planning department in decades to consolidate fragmented planning processes that had previously been housed in several separate departments. Roe served from 1999 to 2002 as the agency’s first Director and from 2002 to 2008 as its Deputy Director under then-Director of Planning Rollin Stanley. He’s been the Executive Director of the Planning and Urban Design Agency since 2008.

Today, the Planning and Urban Design Agency employs 18 people across four main areas of focus. Their Research Division provides technical and field data related to planning, public works, and other issues affecting city government and maintains a GIS database for mapping and data evaluation. The Cultural Resources Office is the City’s Preservation agency and manages historic districts, landmarks, parks, and buildings. The Urban Design Department works on St. Louis’ physical form and public spaces to create a more functional, safe, and livable city. Finally, the Planning Office manages neighborhood, topical, and comprehensive plans to improve and stabilize the physical, social, and economic qualities of neighborhood life for St. Louis residents.

In 2005, the agency created a Strategic Land Use Plan, the land use component of the City of St. Louis Comprehensive Plan. The previous plan had dated to the 1940s. Roe says this gap is typical of Rust Belt cities like St. Louis, where fighting decline has been a bigger priority than planning in recent decades. The Planning and Urban Design Agency produces a routine update to the 2005 plan every year, but now that it’s just over ten years old, they’re considering a more complete update soon.

Roe has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Design from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a Master of Urban Planning from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor. When asked why he chose to pursue his line of work, Roe talked about how a model train set he had as a teenager shed light on what was interesting to him. “It was a custom-made thing, and I worried about and worked on the topography and making the little town more than I did the train,” he recalled.

More importantly, though, Roe entered the planning profession so that he could make a positive difference in people’s lives. That’s one of the things he likes about working as a planner in St. Louis. When Roe joins other planning directors from across the country to speak with Harvard planning graduates each fall, he’s always careful to drive that point home. “I say to these students, ‘As you’re flying to interviews in L.A. or Seattle, think of us in St. Louis,’” he said. “‘If you were to come to St. Louis and do planning, you would be working on and influencing things that would help change people’s lives.’”

Roe’s experience is a testament to that. During his tenure here, he’s had opportunities to apply a “forward-thinking” approach to his work and lead important community projects like light rail, which helped pave the way for the Cortex Innovation Community. Roe created the original plan for Cortex, initially called Technopolis. The Brookings Institution recently highlighted Cortex as one of the country’s leading anchor-based innovation districts.

Cortex’s first major tenant was the Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC), which has been “courted all over the world” with bids to expand. When the CIC team chose St. Louis as their first location outside of Cambridge, they had a few conditions, including a new light rail stop and an adjacent public space.

Thanks to the strategy and foresight of St. Louis’ community leaders, both contingencies were within reach.

“We opened MetroLink 22 years ago, and that was a regional decision. And Great Rivers Greenway was an output of a big community effort that came together in 2004,” Roe explained. “If we as a region had not made the decision to have MetroLink and the greenway system, then we certainly would have stagnated. We would not be in a competitive position to compete outside of our region as well as we do. And Cortex has really come along.”

Cortex’s success corresponds with one of Roe’s core principles: that ensuring a bright future for cities like St. Louis depends on a balanced “triple bottom line” that incorporates social, economic, and environmental outcomes. It also calls for creative solutions to community problems, something that St. Louis doesn’t always embrace as well as it could. “We have boundaries, we have divisions, and we don’t always think of ourselves as a community,” Roe said. “Where that comes quite radically is in the racial divide, but it’s also an economic divide, and it’s in political divides.”

Roe wants to change that dynamic, and he points to positive momentum at the neighborhood level as a promising starting point. Several years ago, Roe spent some time introducing St. Louis to a representative from the Rockefeller Foundation, which named St. Louis one of its 100 Resilient Cities in 2014. During their tour of the area, Roe and his guest visited with the Executive Director of the South Grand Community Improvement District (CID), who talked with them about the post-Ferguson civil unrest that had damaged district storefronts in November 2014.

“There were 22 stores that had their windows knocked out,” Roe recalled, but that’s not what moved the South Grand CID’s Executive Director the most about the experience.

“She mentioned to me a time when she had cried. It was when she got to work the next day. And it wasn’t the destruction that caused her to cry,” Roe continued. “It was the fact that neighborhood residents had gone out and everything was swept up, cleaned up, and painted. The community had come and done that.

“I’d like to do that—in a bigger sense,” Roe concluded.

When asked for his thoughts on how we can strengthen community development in our region, Roe’s response was twofold. One opportunity, he said, involves cultivating a better sense of identity and ownership among St. Louis neighborhoods. “That’s gotten far too watered down,” he said.

The second piece? Building a more robust charitable funding base for community development, something Invest STL is working to establish right now. “One of the things that we have little of in comparison to other cities—Pittsburgh being a shining example—is involvement from the philanthropic community,” Roe said. “That’s an old song, and it’s just started to build momentum. But it’s really, really important.”

That type of visionary work—projects that “break the mold”—are what excite Roe most about his field.

“The future of our locations and places in society is the future. It’s not today,” he pointed out. “And we want it to be better.”

Written by Jenny Connelly-Bowen, CBN Community Development Specialist

Community Development at Work: University Square CDC

University Square CDC Taps Potential in North St. Louis County

University Square Community Development Corporation (USCDC) may be most recently well-known for the Natural Bridge Great Streets project, an initiative that developed multi-use pedestrian paths along Natural Bridge Road to promote safety, accessibility, and opportunity. Phase One, completed in the spring of 2016, created this stretch of pedestrian paths beginning on Hanley and traveling east to Lucas and Hunt. Final outcomes included a raised median, additional storefront development, enhanced landscaping, a four- to two-lane road conversion, a traffic circle, and far more pedestrian activity. The project was made possible through a collaboration between USCDC, the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT)Great Rivers GreenwayEast-West Gateway Council of GovernmentsBi-State DevelopmentNorth County IncorporatedSt. Louis CountySt. Louis City, and the City of Normandy.

Enrique Flores, USCDC Real Estate Development Director

Enrique Flores, USCDC Real Estate Development Director

Enrique Flores, USCDC’s Real Estate Development Director, emphasizes that reviving Natural Bridge Road—beginning with the Hanley to Lucas and Hunt stretch—is an important initiative that’s already generated community-wide ripple effects. Nearby are an elementary school and library, and the new multi-use pedestrian paths have helped to enhance safety for passersby of all ages. The higher frequency of walkers and bikers has in turn drawn more businesses to the newly renovated area. Moreover, since the Great Streets project took place around the same time as renovations at the St. Louis Public Library, the heightened foot traffic brought by the pedestrian lanes prompted the library to extend their hours and ensure that the paths around the building were well-lit into the evening.

“In the end, the project was very well received,” Flores remarked. “It improved pedestrian access and highlighted investment.”

Phase Two of the Natural Bridge Great Streets project will continue from Hanley to Interstate 170. “The first issues to tackle are to clean up the street, address the runoff issue, clean up the infrastructure, and facilitate pedestrians up and down the street,” Flores said. USCDC is currently working with MoDOT to determine funding for engineering. This project area could help draw more business and foot traffic to strip malls, drive-up services, and residential areas nearby. Flores referred to this potential as a “wave effect”: with each project completed at the center, whether it’s development or collaboration between organizations and communities, more opportunities open up.

USCDC is currently working with property owners to create transit-oriented development (TOD) opportunities at the North Hanley MetroLink station. Alongside adjoining properties, the North Hanley MetroLink station constitutes a 50-acre project area with 30 acres immediately available for development. Enrique notes that this is an ideal location for redevelopment: it’s one of busiest MetroLink stations, and is close to Lambert International Airport, the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL), and North Park, the fastest growing industrial park in the St. Louis area. USCDC’s service area encompasses stable communities that could benefit from expanded development of hospitality, retail, dining, and conference spaces.

When done well, community development provides a voice for those that are directly impacted by development changes in an area, and USCDC has made it a priority to incorporate the direct input of community members. To engage residents and amplify community voices, the CDC uses community forums, focus groups, and public panel discussions featuring community stakeholders. Event attendees typically include residents, business and property owners, political figures, and UMSL faculty, staff, and students.

USCDC has also made inter-organizational collaboration a priority by leveraging relationships with their partners, who in some cases have conducted past community forums in an area of USCDC’s interest. Instead of asking the same group of people to meet several different times to report the same information to various organizations, USCDC consults with their partners and incorporates information they have already gathered into their work and planning. For example, in the area affected by USCDC’s North Hanley MetroLink station development project, resident UMSL staff and faculty can informally address their neighbors to gauge a sense of what a community response to USCDC’s initiative might look like.

USCDC continues to seek new methods for conducting community outreach. One new initiative, for instance, involves a group of UMSL alumni hosting coffee gatherings at their homes to update their neighbors and fellow alumni on USCDC’s plans and projects. Ideally, these gatherings will address the need for communication between the university and the community, bring in different perspectives, and provide those gathered with an opportunity to voice opinions and concerns. The chancellor of UMSL, who sits on USCDC’s Board, also offers a venue for connection and exposure by hosting quarterly community meetings on Saturday mornings.

As USCDC works to grow its development arm, their goal is to continue to provide a critical link between the community and developers. This offers potential development partners insight into the types of business and community initiatives they should consider bringing into the area—such as coffee shops, drugstores, grocery establishments, and other businesses.

In the meantime, USCDC is ready to spread the word about the North Hanley MetroLink station initiative and Phase Two of the Natural Bridge Great Streets project. Their objective is to gain traction, generate buzz in the community, stimulate resident involvement through forums and panels, and produce an outcome that’s suitable for everyone.

The map below outlines the Natural Bridge Great Streets Project. Click the image to access a full-scale PDF copy.

Written by Elisabeth Coats, CBN Practicum Student

Community Development at Work: Neighborhood Leadership Academy

Neighborhood Leadership Academy Empowers Residents To Make An Impact

Claire Wolff, NLA Director and MU Extension Community Development Specialist

Claire Wolff, NLA Director and MU Extension Community Development Specialist

Since Neighborhood Leadership Academy (NLA)’s establishment in 2002, over 250 leaders in neighborhoods and organizations across the St. Louis Metro area have graduated from this program with an UMSL Chancellor’s Certificate in Neighborhood Leadership. The Academy trainings focus on honing leadership skills, learning community development approaches, and cultivating practices in management and organizational leadership. Neighborhood leaders tap into their own connections and networks to enhance their communities and make a lasting difference and change within their environments. A variety of projects have resulted from the drive, creativity, and tenacity of NLA participants, such as establishing youth empowerment programs, conducting community needs assessments, raising funds for local parks and gardens, and organizing neighborhood coalitions.

Claire Wolff, NLA’s new Director and University of Missouri Extension Community Development Specialist, has a background in community development, having most recently worked at Grace Hill, where she collaborated with Creating Whole Communities to create a place-based neighborhood leadership program for the communities within the 63106 and 63107 zip codes. Wolff hopes to grow the impact of the Neighborhood Leadership Academy by developing an “NLA 2.0” to follow up with former NLA cohorts through advanced trainings and workshops that provide an opportunity for community leaders to come together again to share strategies and build relationships.

The current Spring NLA 2017 cohort is now in session and will run through May 17. For any questions or to register for the Fall 2017 NLA, please contact Claire Wolff at wolffca@missouri.edu or 314-516-6392. To access more information on community building strategies and neighborhood leadership while you’re waiting for the next NLA cohort to start up again, check out the Creating Whole Communities website! The NLA team provides you with a free and downloadable Community Toolkit that includes tips and strategies to apply in community and neighborhood-development initiatives and organizations. Visit http://cwc.umsl.edu/nla/ to learn more!

The dots on the map below show where past NLA participants have completed community projects in the St. Louis region.

Written by Elisabeth Coats, CBN Practicum Student

Community Development at Work: Antwan Pope, Wellston Loop CDC

Antwan Pope of Wellston Loop CDC Empowers Residents and Brightens Streets in the 22nd Ward

On any given Tuesday morning, you can find Antwan Pope of Wellston Loop CDC working to open his doors at 1514 Hodiamont Avenue to offer free breakfast and health services to community members. Pope is a passionate community development professional who works tirelessly to serve his community of the 22nd Ward. As a native of the ward, he understands the unique needs of the community and networks with individuals and other professional community developers to increase access for his neighborhood. His most recent endeavor involves partnering with Better Family Life and disseminating information about a sponsored program, “Operation Ground Zero,” to reduce rates of crime and drug use across neighborhoods.

Antwan Pope of Wellston Loop CDC

Pope partners on Hodiamont Avenue with Don Devivo of Devivo Realty. Together, they offer health services like HIV and Hepatitis C testing and provide the community with a space where they can convene and gather important information about upcoming events. Pope works with community partners like The Salvation ArmyJob Corps, and Harris-Stowe students. Pope welcomes any and all community development professionals to gather in this space and meet the community he works with.

When asked about the biggest need facing the 22nd Ward, Pope responded that there is a great need for additional community spaces. He expressed a desire to see a community-wide farmer’s market or standalone coffee shop so that residents have better access to healthy foods. Pope would also like to introduce a home renovation program that brings together different interest groups, including residents and developers, to improve infrastructure in the area.

Pope has been building his skills in grassroots community organizing since before he began working with Wellston Loop CDC. In 2013, he led an initiative called Journey Continue to engage neighborhood youth after school and help them with their academics. Pope has enjoyed a strong relationship with James Clark at Better Family Life since 2003 and has collaborated with them on their community outreach work to end violence in the area. Pope also spearheads an initiative called Community Reconnect, where he meets individuals at 10:00 am each Saturday to do block clean-ups of the 22nd Ward. His goal is to clean up, monitor, and promote safety from where Dr. Martin Luther King Drive and Hodiamont Avenue meet all the way to Page Boulevard.

Pope joined the Community Builders Network to increase his capacity to serve his community of the 22nd Ward. He invites other developers in the St. Louis metro area to reach out to him if they have any interest in partnering or collaborating. “I can’t tell you where I’m from,” Pope said, “but I can show you were I work.”

Below are some photos of Pope’s shared office space in the community.

Written by Brendan East, CBN Practicum Student

Community Development at Work: Community Renewal & Development, Inc. and North Newstead Association

Boosting Capacity to Serve North City: Community Renewal and Development, Inc. and North Newstead Association Formally Merge

Community Renewal and Development, Inc. Annual Community Dinner at Fresh Starts Community Garden in the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood

Effective January 1st, two community development corporations (CDCs) that have been serving North St. Louis City for years joined together to boost their capacity, broaden their reach, and expand their collective expertise. Community Renewal and Development, Inc. (CRD) and North Newstead Association (NNA) decided last fall to formally merge into a new North Newstead Association. Former CRD Executive Director Sal Martinez, who previously served on NNA’s Board of Directors until November of 2016, has assumed the role of NNA’s new Executive Director. The plan to combine entities evolved from conversations facilitated by the Community Builders Network of Metro St. Louis (CBN) and was originally the idea of the new NNA’s Board President, Brian Davies of Great Southern Bank.

In response to the challenging environment facing CDCs in the St. Louis region, CBN has led ongoing conversations on potential partnerships and mergers among CDCs for several years. In 2016, Creating Whole Communities published a case study on the 2014 merger of Shaw Neighborhood Housing Corporation, Grand Oak Hill Community Corporation, and Southwest Garden Housing Corporation into Tower Grove Neighborhoods Community Development Corporation. That report emphasized increased capacity, diverse programming, and enhanced resilience as possible major benefits of CDC mergers.

Brian Davies, North Newstead Association Board President

Those opportunities were drivers behind NNA and CRD’s joint decision to merge. The CDCs had complementary missions, skill sets, and place-based footprints, and they liked the idea of pursuing funding and resources as a stronger unified body. All stakeholders felt the merger was in the best interest of the organizations and their neighborhood residents, and both Boards of Directors supported the move unanimously.

“We’re bringing together some great things under one roof,” Martinez explained. Although both organizations primarily serve North St. Louis City residents, NNA has focused chiefly on housing production, while CRD has concentrated more heavily on human and social services.

NNA has been serving the neighborhoods of Penrose, O’Fallon, Fairgrounds, and the Greater Ville for over 20 years. The organization owns 128 units of affordable housing and provides programming related to economic development, beautification, and landlord and energy conservation training. Over the past 12 years, CRD has been both a facilitator of housing development and a social service provider in the neighborhoods it serves, coordinating initiatives related to public safety, jobs for young adults, neighborhood beautification, and support for minority- and women-owned construction firms. CRD has also supported the Jeff-Vander-Lou neighborhood’s Fresh Starts Community Garden by recruiting volunteers and raising funds to pay workers, expand raised beds, and purchase garden equipment and supplies. Garden leader Rosie Willis is one of two of CRD’s neighborhood residents who will be serving on the new NNA’s 10-member Board of Directors.

With the two organizations merged under NNA’s name, CRD’s previous service area—which covered the Jeff-Vander-Lou, St. Louis Place, Columbus Square and Carr Square neighborhoods alongside part of Old North—will now be a part of NNA’s footprint, too. NNA recently received re-certification as a Community Based Development Organization (CBDO) from St. Louis City’s Community Development Administration (CDA).

Sal Martinez, North Newstead Association Executive Director

Both NNA and CRD transferred ongoing projects to the new NNA’s umbrella. NNA was already preparing to convert the O’Fallon neighborhood’s vacant, historic Harrison School into quality, affordable senior housing, a community need highlighted by recent market studies. NNA has also partnered with residents, the St. Louis City Metropolitan Police Department, the Circuit Attorney’s Office, and the St. Louis Agency on Training and Employment (SLATE) to roll out the NNA Neighborhood Safety Initiative, a CDA-funded, citizen-led training effort to reduce neighborhood crime. The program will include training sessions with community development experts, law enforcement, and consultants. A Crime Summit that will host national figures to discuss strategies for crime reduction, safety initiatives, and funding opportunities is planned for later this year.

Before becoming a part of NNA, CRD (in partnership with Rise Community Development) was developing a blended homebuyer and home repair assistance program as a part of the recently funded Choice Neighborhoods Initiative in North St. Louis City. Further support for that project comes from a CBN- and St. Louis Community Reinvestment Association-sponsored Ladder of Capacity Building Grant, as well as $1 million in collective support from three local banks: Midland States BankGreat Southern Bank, and Commerce Bank. The arrival of the new National Geospatial Agency (NGA) campus in the Choice Neighborhoods footprint could spark further momentum for the project.

As it moves forward with these projects, NNA is also seeking out new ways to spur ongoing revitalization in the communities it serves. Martinez is looking forward to bringing new services to the community and building bridges between local officials and residents. “One of the most important roles of a CDC in today’s urban environment is that of a liaison between the community and law enforcement,” he said. “We have a lot more in common than we do differences.”

When asked about the merger process, Martinez credited the smooth transition to the clear vision of both Boards of Directors. When Deanetta James, who had served as CRD’s Board President since the organization’s inception, learned she might be replaced in an election that would determine the Board President of the new NNA, her response was gracious: “I don’t care about the title. I care about making the community better.”

“She was selfless enough to not get upset about that,” Martinez said. He went on to explain that during organizational mergers, it’s important that everyone keep their egos in check. “We all have them,” he acknowledged. “But you have to keep your eyes on the prize. If we’re committed to the improvement of the community, our actions have to reflect that.”

Martinez also emphasized the importance of ensuring all stakeholders are treated with respect. Since merger-related tensions are sometimes inevitable, he suggested that organizations consider bringing in a skilled facilitator to navigate conflicts and help everyone understand the passions and contributions each stakeholder brings to the table. “A merger always means change, and sometimes people are afraid of and resistant to change,” Martinez observed.

For the most part, NNA and CRD avoided these types of roadblocks. All involved saw that the merger was in everyone’s best interest, including the community’s. Martinez further attributed their success to the counsel of Spencer Fane’s Tom Jerry, who helped handle legal details. Jerry also serves on the Board of Commissioners for the St. Louis Housing Authority.

As the new NNA hits the ground running, Martinez will be making rounds at neighborhood meetings during coming weeks to introduce himself and the new organization. “In the neighborhoods that CRD used to serve, I’m now the common bond,” Martinez said. “I’ll be going in to say, ‘I’m still here, and this is my hat now. Here’s our commitment.’ As hard as CRD worked, NNA will work even harder.”

Fortunately, Martinez already has many friends, acquaintances, and associates in NNA’s footprint thanks to his decades of experience in the St. Louis community development world. The same is true of former CRD and NNA board members, many of whom know one another socially even if they haven’t worked together before.

Moreover, they’re united by a collective mindset and what Martinez called “a shared love of community.”

“What happens in Jeff-Vander-Lou affects O’Fallon. What happens in Penrose affects Carr Square,” Martinez said. “We’re all in North City, trying to bring resources to the community. Let’s do it together.”

Below are photos (courtesy of John Scott) from North Newstead Association’s First Annual Community Development Celebration, held in November 2016.

Written by Jenny Connelly-Bowen, CBN Graduate Research Assistant

Community Development at Work: Lemay

Collaboration Continues to Lift the Community of Lemay

Lemay Homes Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, November 2016

The community of Lemay in South St. Louis County gained 40 brand-new single-family homes this year with the completion of Lemay Homes, a project co-developed by Lemay Housing Partnership, Inc. (LHP) and Rise Community Development (Rise). The lease-purchase homes are affordable to families earning 60 percent or less of the Area Median Income. The units were financed using State and Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits and with support from the Missouri Housing Development Commission (MHDC), the St. Louis County Office of Community DevelopmentPNC Bank, and Sugar Creek Capital.

“Lemay Homes is really providing an opportunity for more housing options in this community,” said Reginald Scott, LHP’s Executive Director. “That’s one of LHP’s goals, to create more quality housing options for people who live here and also to encourage folks to move here.”

Reginald Scott, Executive Director of Lemay Housing Partnership, Inc.

Lemay Homes is the latest in a series of efforts to lift the well-being of the Lemay community. After the flood of 1993 wiped out many area homes and part of what was then downtown Lemay, local leaders and residents worked together and developed plans and implementation strategies that eventually led to the formation of LHP in 1998.

For Scott, those foundations speak to the resilient, engaged spirit of Lemay’s residents. “LHP was created via concerned people in the community coming together and working hard to look out for one another,” he said. “They decided that there needed to be an organization in the community that dealt with housing issues. With additional seed funds from the St. Louis County Port Authority, LHP was born.”

Since then, LHP has worked to implement projects and programs that strengthen and support that community. As a certified Community Housing Development Organization (CHDO) and U.S. Housing Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-Certified Housing Counseling Agency, LHP provides homebuyer training and counselinghome repair financial assistance through forgivable loans, and down payment and closing cost assistance as a participant in St. Louis County’s HOME Consortium 1st Home Program.

LHP also executes residential development projects like Lemay Homes. The Lemay Homes development provided a valuable opportunity to tackle blight in the community. During the property acquisition process, the project team targeted derelict and vacant properties that had been causing problems for existing residents, St. Louis County Public Works, and/or the St. Louis County Police. One lot, for example, was the former site of a now-demolished methamphetamine lab.

Standing in the place of those properties now are 40 high-quality, affordable three- and four-bedroom homes. All will remain rental properties for the next 15 years. However, since the project is designed as a lease-purchase program, residents will become eligible to purchase their units at the end of the tax credit compliance period. The longer a resident family remains in their home, the lower their potential home’s effective purchase price at the end of the mandatory lease period.

Until then, residents have the opportunity to prepare for homeownership with help from LHP. That includes coaching as well as a gradual transfer of homeownership responsibilities, which started this year with participation in lawn care upkeep. “They will learn to be homeowners,” Scott explained. “A lot of the units came online over the summer, and we gave them hoses and sprinklers so they could water the sod and seed. And each year we hope to pass on more responsibilities, so at the end of the day they can function comfortably and confidently.”

Scott cites this capacity to provide comfort and security as one of Lemay Homes’ biggest strengths. “For some of the new residents, it’s been amazing to see the impact on them and their family living in a brand-new, single-family home. It can have a huge impact on your self-esteem,” he said. “What’s occurred in other lease-purchase projects similar to this one is that people really take ownership and pride in a brand-new home with new appliances and modern features. So we hope that the new home will be a motivator and stabilizer for the new residents and that its affordable price will create and sustain an improved quality of life for all the families.”

The positive impact of Lemay Homes has also carried over to the community at-large. Expanded housing options and improved housing stock mean higher home values for area residents, and the new construction projects have drawn noticeable responses from neighbors who have been inspired to complete their own home improvements. “Once we started doing development work of scale, we saw a lot of folks come out and start to invest,” Scott said. “A lot of fix-up, painting, new windows, et cetera.”

LHP’s home repair program makes that home repair work more economically viable for Lemay residents. “We’re trying to reinforce and provide services to existing homeowners so that they don’t feel like they can’t improve their conditions as well,” Scott explained. “Maybe they’re not able to purchase or rent one of the new homes because of the pricing or demand, but they can make improvements and critical repairs. We are assisting them with making sure that their homes are safe and healthy.”

Dr. Kevin Carl, Superintendent of Schools, Hancock Place School District

The Lemay Homes development has added families to the Lemay community, too. All but a few residents are new to the area, and most have children who are now students in Lemay’s Hancock Place School District (HPSD), where local resident enrollment increased this year for the first time in ten years.

For a school district doing all it can to be an active partner and community asset in Lemay, that shift was a big win. Dr. Kevin Carl, HPSD’s Superintendent of Schools, believes this commitment is critical to the area’s well-being. “Here’s the reality,” he said. “I don’t care where you live, but if you’re in Missouri, because we’re not an open enrollment state, one of the questions you’re going to ask when you move somewhere, even if you don’t have kids, is ‘What school district is this?’”

That’s why HPSD provides top-notch technology and teaching resources to students and wraparound services to area families, including a free health clinic that’s open to all residents of the 63125 zip code. It’s also why Dr. Carl spends so much time seeking out ways to collaborate with other community organizations. “In the end, we all want the same positive outcome in the community,” he said. So when leaders and residents come together, the question they often consider is, “How do we think we can best facilitate that?”

Rise, too, has been a key partner in these long-term efforts to engage and revitalize the Lemay community. Rise provided a portion of the start-up capital for local news and outreach through the Community Link, a local quarterly newspaper that’s managed by LHP, HPSD, Lemay Development Corporation, and the Lemay Chamber of Commerce. In 2014, LHP broke ground on its first relatively large residential development project, Smith Place at Linn, which featured ten new affordable for-sale homes. Rise provided some predevelopment funding and helped secure a Priority Markets Grant from Wells-Fargo to cover part of the project’s cost. Midwest Bank Centre, the St. Louis County Office of Community Development, and the St. Louis County Port Authority also supplied financing. The homes sold quickly once they were completed, and in 2015, Smith Place at Linn earned LHP a Better Neighborhoods Award from DeSales Community Housing Corporation.

Both Smith Place and Lemay Homes have been outgrowths of the Lemay Comprehensive Plan, adopted by St. Louis County in 2006. The Plan was developed by the County Council and Lemay stakeholders to identify community needs and strategies for improvements. Using the comprehensive plan, LHP worked with local residents and stakeholders to develop the East of Broadway Neighborhood Plan. Smith Place was the initial project implemented as a result of the neighborhood plan. Next in line could be a series of economic development projects along South Broadway, which will likely focus on local services prioritized by Lemay neighbors at a recent charrette. “I give this community credit—they do show up and are engaged in the planning,” Scott said. Residents said they’d like to see coffee and ice cream shops, cafes, and other small, community-oriented businesses within walking distance. Development work might also feature service providers that offer workforce training, financial services and counseling, health services, or office space for local professionals.

These possibilities and completed projects have lifted the collective spirit of Lemay residents, many of whom have faced uncertainty about the area’s future in years past. The community has been hit with foreclosures and tax delinquencies, previous development plans included speculation about a potential industrial park, and some residents worried that an expansion of River City Casino might capture vacant land for parking. The result, Scott said, was that “people held off on really making significant equity investments in their property.”

Larry Perlmutter, Communications and Development Manager, Rise Community Development

Larry Perlmutter, Communications and Development Manager, Rise Community Development

Thanks to committed community partners like LHP, Rise, and HPSD, that’s no longer the case. Larry Perlmutter, Rise’s Communications and Development Manager, links their shared work in Lemay to powerful ripple effects. “Anytime you can create a development that not only improves the appearance of the community, but that contributes to the overall community’s quality of life, it’s a good thing,” he said. “When you bring in more tax revenue, when you bring in more students to the school system, when you create work in the community—all of those things are good.”

Dr. Carl agrees. He encourages community-building organizations and partnerships to “think big”: “Don’t underestimate the ability of your community to do things that they’ve not seen before, or to think about things they haven’t otherwise thought of,” he said. “Foundationally, you need to make sure you’ve got the right people in the right places. That’s number one. And then, don’t limit yourself. Include everybody in that conversation.”

That inclusive, cooperative framework is important to LHP, too. “The coolest thing about doing this work is that we are trying to constantly stay engaged with the local residents, institutions, and businesses to make sure that LHP’s work reflects programming and projects consistent with the real needs in the community. That’s important,” Scott emphasized. “You have to really work to create a game plan, and make sure you have shared ownership of the plan with the stakeholders in the community.”

As far as that plan is concerned, LHP remains committed to celebrating the community’s achievements along the way as it continues to explore next steps. “We’re one of many folks out here trying to figure it out,” Scott said. “And collectively we’ll get there sooner rather than later.”

Click here to watch a video of testimonials from LHP stakeholders and community members who have been touched by the organization’s work. Below are photos from November’s Lemay Homes Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting Ceremony, courtesy of Rise.

Written by Jenny Connelly-Bowen, CBN Graduate Research Assistant