“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” That was the exasperated rhetorical question posed by Nathanael to his friend Philip when he was told about Jesus Christ. Considering Nazareth’s small town reputation, it certainly seemed at the time that nothing great could ever come from there – let alone the Savior of our race. It was this exclamation by Nathanael in the Gospel of John that inspired the residents of College Hill to name the new affordable housing development in their community “Nazareth Homes.” Just like the Nazareth of ancient Israel, few people would ever think that something good could come out of College Hill. Nazareth Homes seeks to prove the doubters wrong about the area.
The Nazareth Homes development is a 20-unit affordable housing initiative in the College Hill community – developed by the LCMS National Housing Support Corporation (NHSC) with the input of local residents. It is the culmination of more than seven years of work in that community by the LCMS and its partners – resulting in more than $2 million in investment in the area since 2007. Last year, NHSC completed construction on the first two homes in this development and this winter, the first Nazareth Home was sold to Carolyn Conners, a local city clerk. Carolyn is the first new homebuyer in the College Hill community in the last seven years.
Named after its past affiliation with Saint Louis University during the 1870s, the College Hill neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri is a community rich in history. Two majestic 100-year-old water towers serve as notable landmarks in this neighborhood, and many of its homes date back to 1880-1920. Located at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Interstate 70, less than four miles from the city’s center, College Hill was once a vibrant and expanding community.
Unfortunately, over the last several decades, the neighborhood has experienced severe physical and economic decline. In the last forty years, approximately one third of College Hill’s original structures have been torn down and replaced by vacant lots, and many of its remaining commercial buildings and homes need restoration. The neighborhood’s remaining 1,725 residents (of whom about 92 percent are African-American) have a median household income of $22,616. Most dwellings in College Hill are renter-occupied (57.5 percent) and are often abandoned by their landlords when rent profits decline or cease. Prior to any community organizing work, College Hill’s few remaining families lived in drug-infested, crime-ridden, and dilapidated housing. However, despite these challenges, a core group of College Hill residents continue to take pride in their community’s rich heritage and want to transform their neighborhood into a healthier, safer, and more vibrant place to live.
NHSC focuses on providing residents the tools they need to transform their own neighborhoods and has demonstrated a long-term commitment and support to its neighbors in College Hill since 2007. The organization has consistently provided leadership and financial resources to the area and has engaged more than fifty partners and the area’s residents in building a viable community development plan for the neighborhood.
This overall revitalization project, called “Campaign for College Hill,” is a collaborative effort for neighborhood change. At its core, the campaign is a grass-roots effort with buy-in from all of the area’s key stakeholders: police, residents, public officials, non-for-profit organizations, businesses, and other key organizations in the community. In 2007, this group developed a neighborhood plan, through a series of community meetings, which serves as a road map for action and clearly defines the concept vision for the neighborhood. One of the major needs identified in this process was access to affordable housing.
Moving forward, NHSC is continuing to work with its partners in the College Hill community to deliver on a variety of service areas identified by residents. In the coming years, NHSC’s role will be focused specifically on implementing a robust, capital-intensive housing strategy in College Hill. This work will begin with the launch of the first phase of the College Hill housing program (the “Nazareth Homes”).
“Nazareth Homes” is one piece of a broader concept plan that includes new pocket parks, infrastructure improvements, economic development, and quality of life initiatives. NHSC has retained an architect to design homes that are attractive, marketable, financially feasible, and compatible with the existing streetscape. Phase I of the project will consist of approximately twenty (20) homes and has launched with the construction of two display homes. All subsequent homes will be built on a pre-sale basis. The total development costs (TDC) of the project will be kept low through volunteer and low-cost labor and is $4 million for Phase I.