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In quest to find affordable home, family lands in once-segregated St. Louis County neighborhood

Michael and Danielle Abril pose for a portrait in front of their home in Kirkwood's Meacham Park neighborhood. April 2018
Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
Michael and Danielle Abril pose for a portrait in front of their home in Kirkwood's Meacham Park neighborhood.

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.

There is one road in and out of Meacham Park, which has been a predominantly black community since it was founded.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio
There is one road in and out of Meacham Park, which has been a predominantly black community since it was founded.

Moving in

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.

The average home price in Kirkwood has increased about 30 percent since 2013. The average sale price of a home in St. Louis County rose about 18 percent.

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.

Related: St. Louis County communities strive to provide affordable housing development

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.

Ashley Lisenby is the race, identity and culture reporter at St. Louis Public Radio. She came to KWMU from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch where she was a general assignment reporter who mostly covered county municipal government issues. Before making the switch to radio, Ashley covered Illinois government for The Associated Press in Springfield, Illinois, and neighborhood goings-on at a weekly newspaper in a Chicago suburb. Ashley is a Chicago native (yes, the city not the suburbs). She has a master’s degree in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University.

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