Michael and Danielle Abril are active members of the Meacham Park Neighborhood Association. They show up at meetings. They volunteer. They help inform others in the community.
“Meacham Park is a blessing to us because it allowed us to be relatively close to my work and in a great place, a great community,” Michael Abril said.
The neighborhood is a mostly black area of Kirkwood that had been segregated from the rest of the city for years. But that’s changing.
Not only are neighborhood leaders working to move the community beyond old stigmas, but the rising cost of homes in Kirkwood and surrounding county municipalities is prompting families who are not black, like the Abrils, to turn to Meacham Park to raise their family.
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Michael Abril said he and his wife were worried about “invading” the historically black neighborhood. He said his family wanted to be sensitive to the community’s past. Michael Abril identifies as Mexican and Danielle as white.
The Abrils moved to Kirkwood from Indiana three years ago. At first they looked at other homes in other parts of the city, but those were out of their budget.
In 2017, a house in Kirkwood, on average, cost about $380,000. Some of the historic and more stately homes list at well over $1 million. The Abrils purchased their home in Meacham Park for $150,000. Danielle Abril said when she looked up their home on the real estate site Zillow, it was valued at a much higher price.
“It was many times what we paid for our house because it’s in the Kirkwood zip code,” Danielle said. “The computer doesn’t differentiate the neighborhood the way that people do,” her husband added.
“So it’s really, really fascinating to see what we paid for the house then what, like, if we were a mile over in a different part of Kirkwood what someone might pay for it,” Danielle said.
The cost of recovery
Housing is getting more expensive in other parts of St. Louis County, too, said Kirkwood realtor Sharon Sleator. She attributes that to a housing market recovery.
Some of the biggest spikes in home prices and number of homes sold happened in Jennings, Normandy, St. John and Ferguson. Parts of Normandy and Jennings saw significant losses in homeownership after the 2008 housing crash.
Back in Kirkwood, construction is booming, Sleator said.
“The builders can afford to pay, let’s say $130,000 and tear it down and build a $450,000 house,” Sleator said. “It used to be that there were some areas that you would never consider the builder would get that much money for the home, but I think there’s almost no street in Kirkwood where they wouldn’t get that much money if they built a new home.”
Clay and Fillmore avenues are two of the streets where new builds are taking the place of older homes. While new housing development is good for Kirkwood as a whole, Sleator says, families with moderate incomes can’t always afford the cost of a new home or the fix-up costs associated with an older one.
“One of the sweetest houses that I always loved was sitting between two new big homes and it was just torn down last week and it just had a little story book character to it,” Sleater said. “So it’s not that I’m always in favor of this, but really the economics of it is driving the change.”
Ashley Lisenby is part of the public radio collaborative Sharing America, covering the intersection of race, identity and culture. This new initiative, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, includes reporters in Hartford, St. Louis, Kansas City, and Portland, Oregon. Follow Ashley on Twitter @aadlisenby.