Named after its past affiliation with Saint Louis University during the 1870s, the College Hill neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri is a community rich with history. Two majestic 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.
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 2,700 residents (of whom about 90 percent are African-American) have a median household income of less than $23,000. 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, the 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 bring their neighborhood back to be a healthier, safer, and more vibrant place to live.
Responding to the numerous challenges facing their community, a group of College Hill residents joined with the LCMS National Housing Support Corporation (NHSC) in 2006 to begin work on revitalizing this historic neighborhood. Together, NHSC and this growing group of residents have developed a viable revitalization plan for College Hill and successfully implemented numerous community improvements – such as community gardens, providing recreational and enrichment opportunities to residents, and enacting crime reduction programs. Altogether, this coalition has attracted more than $2 million in direct and indirect investment to the College Hill community in the last six years.
This overall revitalization project, titled 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, business and other key organizations in the community. In 2007, this group developed a neighborhood plan, through a series of charettes, which serves as a clear road map that clearly defines the concept vision for the neighborhood.
The goal of the Campaign for College Hill is to achieve real community revitalization in a manner that is informed “from the ground up.” The project has facilitated strategic partnerships that bring critical human services, housing and economic development, planning, finance, and support for the neighborhood’s residents. NHSC’s leadership is central to the achievement of the community’s strategic goals. Through numerous workshops and conversations with residents, the College Hill project is focused on achieving lasting progress in the areas of:
- After-school activities (recreation, tutoring, mentoring)
- Vocational development and support
- Health and nutrition
- Care for frail and disabled residents
- Community communication
- Rehabilitation of existing homes
Moving forward, NHSC is continuing to work with its partners in the College Hill community to deliver on the eight 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”). To facilitate the creation of this housing program, the Campaign for College Hill will launch a $4 million capital campaign to bring additional philanthropic support to this community. By raising support for new affordable housing opportunities, the Campaign for College Hill will transform College Hill – a historic north St. Louis neighborhood plagued by crime and stagnant economic conditions – into a safe, vibrant, financially stable, and healthy community.