If you ask many St. Louisans what they like about the region, many will cite that its cost of living is a big plus. Housing in St. Louis is generally believed to be affordable — but not for all.
Chris Krehmeyer, president and CEO of Beyond Housing, an organization that assists residents secure affordable living accommodations and more, recently talked with the Listening Project of St. Louis Public Radio. He discussed some of the region's challenges with housing, what low-income residents in St. Louis face in finding homes and what options exist for people for the American Dream of being a homeowner.
He also talked about options for low-income residents to obtain acceptable living conditions in the area.
- Someone earning minimum wage would have to work 82 hours a week to afford the typical two bedroom rental unit.
- Improving one's credit history is a crucial component to becoming a homeowner and securing a financial future.
- Beyond Housing owns more than 400 units of affordable rental housing units.
Our conversation follows. It has been edited for length and clarity.
What is the biggest housing issue in St. Louis, and why?
Like all across the country, there is a great lack of decent, safe and affordable housing for families and individuals in the St. Louis region. In its 2015 Out of Reach Report, the National Low Income Housing Coalition said that someone earning minimum wage would have to work 82 hours a week to afford the typical two bedroom rent and a staggering 107 hours a week to afford the typical three bedroom rent. These are families, single wage earners who are working, paying taxes, i.e., doing all the right things and they cannot find a place to call home that allows for them to be successful. Families are faced with either paying a financially unsound proportion of their income on housing, many paying over 50 percent of income, or living in an unsafe neighborhood or unsafe house or both.
What are the primary issues with low-income housing in St. Louis?
We do not have enough and produce very little new each and every year. The main production vehicle is the low income housing tax credit program governed by the IRS. There are not enough HUD dollars to produce any new units of significance. The need keeps growing. Our two local housing authorities have few new vouchers each year. Again, home is so important to the success of children and their families. Home is both a physical structure but also the life in and around where you live that draws the best out of each of us.
What are the major challenges in (re)developing neighborhoods?
We need to focus on the multi-faceted issues that prevent thriving, sustainable neighborhoods to exist. We must have an intentionally integrated system of working in and across housing, education, health, jobs and economic development. This is difficult and requires a great deal of capacity from local organizations and those who support them.
What are some ways one with challenging finances (difficult credit history, etc.) can obtain better housing?
First and foremost improve your credit. Meet with an agency like Beyond Housing to create a plan that will move you in a positive direction related to your financial strength. Credit scores are now being used for job application, securing insurance and many more facets of our daily lives. Getting a plan in place and then carrying that plan out are paramount for long term success.
What services does your organization provide to help people secure better housing?
We own more than 400 units of affordable rental housing. We will help over 800 families reach their piece of the American dream of home ownership and will help over 600 families keep their homes out of foreclosure. We recently created a community land trust that produces homes for new homeowners.
Visit The Listening Project for more information on issues of disparity concerning, health, education and socio-economics in St. Louis.