Beyond Housing is a staple in the Pagedale area. A foreclosure crisis and subsequent decline of a school district left the community struggling to survive. President and CEO Chris Krehmeyer says, “Our job with community folks is to rebuild the fabric of that place. To do that is not just one thing. It has to be all things together.”
Ask, Align, Act
Beyond Housing has provided resources for stable housing in the St. Louis area since 1975. Steady improvements were being seen in Pagedale—within the 63133 zip code of St. Louis County. However, when the 2008 foreclosure crisis hit, the area experienced an exodus of families and talent, and the Normandy School District continued to decline. By 2012, the school district had lost its accreditation.
Chris says you can’t just listen to the community, you must execute. Beyond Housing developed an “Ask, Align, Act” approach. He says the community will tell you what’s working and what’s not. The next step is the most difficult: getting the resources together. Finally, Chris says, community members have spoken and are tired of repeated surveys asking what can be done without a follow-up action. “Stop talking. Stop asking me what I want if you aren’t going to do it. Get some stuff done!”
When the Pagedale community said housing stock needed to be better, Beyond Housing aligned and acted. Chris says the organization has invested close to 80 million dollars in housing in the area in the last 10 years, including 400 new single family homes, 500 rental units, and two senior homes with about 100 units each. The organization has also been involved in the rehabilitation of 1200 owner-occupied houses.
Beyond Housing has facilitated over 250 demolitions of vacant and abandoned homes. Chris says, “You have kids walk past that terrible abandoned home with broken windows, the grass is overgrown. It sends the wrong message.”
The 24:1 Initiative
In 2011, Beyond Housing developed the 24:1 Initiative, so named for the 24 cities within the Normandy School District. Since that time, two cities within the 24:1 footprint have merged. Beyond Housing began at the intersection of Page and Ferguson Avenues, developing a grocery store, a senior residence with a bank on its first floor, a movie theater, and a BJC Behavioral Health facility.
Chris says the role of Beyond Housing is to look at systemic inequities, citing the funding of school systems based on the value of real estate as an example. Redlining, the discriminatory tactic from the mid-1900s of determining properties in predominately African-American neighborhoods as risky financial investments, has had long-term consequences in the area. Chris says, the collective “we” need to determine how to mitigate those inequities so families and children can be more successful.
Beyond Housing started a matched savings program called Vikings Advantage at Normandy High School. For every dollar a family saves for a child to go to college, it will match three dollars. Chris says 400 kids have participated, with 100 kids graduating college and 14 kids earning graduate degrees. “We have one young woman who’s supposed to be starting law school soon.” He points out, however, that there are 3,000 kids in the school district, and they would all need to be in it to get to scale.
Chris says Beyond Housing focuses on the intersection of services, including staffing its movie theater with local students and seniors from the nearby residence. Beyond Housing has 12 staff members embedded in Normandy schools who give out basic need items, such as food and back-to-school supplies. It installed a washer and dryer in a school to help students maintain clean clothes, and offers parents rent and utilities assistance.
This past July, the organization celebrated its newest commercial development, Carter Commons, named after former Pagedale Mayor and Beyond Housing champion Mary Louise Carter. The complex of seven small businesses, nearly all minority-owned, includes a gym, a clothing boutique, and healthy food restaurants. Propel Kitchens, a community kitchen that equips Black and Brown people with culinary and business skills to become entrepreneurs, sits on the second floor and partners with Bon Appetit catering service.
Future plans for the area include a performing arts space and gym in a former church; a development near the Wellston MetroLink station; conversion of a school into a 40-unit apartment complex; and a 12,000-square-foot expansion of the Pagedale Family Support Center to increase the capacity of its after-school program threefold.
Chris cautions, “This is all great work, but if we don’t get to scale, it will fail,” he says. Getting to scale would mean getting businesses to be self-sustainable and for the people, who want to live there, to stay there.
Once and for All
Beyond Housing has given away 350,000 meals since COVID began. At a food distribution site in Pine Lawn, Chris was there to greet everyone. While happy to satisfy the immediate need of providing food during the pandemic, he also wanted to know what else families needed so they wouldn’t have to come back.
Chris doesn’t want organizations to rely on one-time successes. “Everything we’re doing is good, and there are some data points,” he says, “but it’s typically more transactional then transformational. Mrs. Smith’s life is better. Good. We need to do a whole bunch of Mrs. Smiths and not just the one-off stories. You need to get to scale.”
During the pandemic, Beyond Housing began Once and for All, an effort to scale their holistic community improvement model to create “a stronger, more equitable, and prosperous St. Louis.” It’s community awareness campaign, “Dear Lou,” makes the point that reducing poverty and inequity is a complex problem, and that a lack of investment in one part of the metropolitan area impacts the value of the whole area. Chris says Dear Lou is “a love letter to the region. This is what I think you can be.”