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Marquette Homes aims to add 60 new affordable housing units to south St. Louis neighborhoods

The historic Melba Theater at 3608 South Grand Avenue on Monday, April 3, 2023, in south St. Louis. The property is one of the rehabilitation projects that will receive a tax abatement from the St. Louis Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
The historic Melba Theater on South Grand Avenue on Monday in St. Louis. The rehabilitation of the property is included in the Marquette Homes project, which was approved for a tax abatement by the St. Louis Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority last week.

A $25.9 million project to bring 60 new affordable housing units to south St. Louis is moving forward.

The city’s Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority last week approved tax abatement and other provisions for the Marquette Homes project, which includes the rehabilitation of six buildings and the construction of five others in the Gravois Park and Dutchtown neighborhoods.

Of the 60 new units, 27 will have three bedrooms, 20 will have two, and 13 will have one, according to documents submitted to the LCRA.

“One of the things we focused on in putting this development together was trying to find larger units for families,” said Mark Stroker, director of real estate development for Rise Community Development.

It’s a challenge for families needing affordable housing to find larger living units that are newer, recently rehabbed or meet a higher standard of energy efficiency, he said. This project likely wouldn’t be possible without state and federal historic and low-income housing tax credits and resources from the City of St. Louis, Stroker added.

“That’s probably the reason why there’s so few of those kind of units available,” he said. “It doesn’t work without the benefit of the credit and other leveraged funding.”

The majority of the units will be affordable for families making 60% of the area median income, or $56,940 for a family of four; 10 units are designated for those making 30% of the AMI, or $28,450 for a family of four. All of the units will be affordable for at least 30 years once complete, Stroker said.

There’s a distinct need for more of this kind of housing in St. Louis, and the Marquette Homes project is an outgrowth of neighborhood planning by Rise, which co-developer Lutheran Development Group participated in with other community organizations and residents, Stroker said.

“The idea that housing would remain affordable even as development proceeded was key,” he said.

Stabilizing the community

This isn’t the first time Rise and Lutheran Development Group have taken on an affordable housing development of this nature. Their Chippewa Park project was completed a few years ago and is finding success, said Becky Reinhart, executive director at DeSales Community Development, which manages the Chippewa Park properties.

“One thing I hear from managers there is that there is a very high amount of demand,” she said. “People are excited to live there. It’s restoring neighborhood and life to blocks that have not had as much activity in the past.”

Reinhart’s organization isn’t involved with the building of Marquette Homes, but will manage the finished units. She explained that projects like it can go a long way to stabilizing a neighborhood, especially since this development is in the same neighborhoods as the Chippewa Park units.

“It’s kind of like building on a good thing and deepening the impact,” she said. “You can reach that tipping point where you have stabilized enough properties and you’re able to show, ‘this is a stable, viable and well-loved community.’”

Vacant lots or homes in desperate need of repair can keep homeowners or private developers from investing in that neighborhood, Reinhart said. This is where historic and low-income housing tax credits become a powerful tool to invest in communities, she added.

“You’re getting high-quality property that is a historic rehab that’s maintaining the character of the neighborhood and is not a race to the bottom as far as what’s the cheapest everything that we can do in order to produce an affordable unit,” Reinhart said.

Rise and Lutheran Development Group are also leveraging those credits to preserve some more iconic or identifiable buildings in the city. Stroker said the project, which has gone through five iterations, always included the rehab of 3305 Meramec St. and now includes the former Melba Theatre at 3600 S. Grand, too.

This drew praise from some members of the LCRA, because a few private developers had considered the building in the past.

“A beautiful historic building,” said Sean Spencer. “It’s a great example of how LIHTC (Low Income Housing Tax Credits) and subsidies can help us preserve historic assets. That is a very visible location that, working in the area, we drive by almost every day.”

Stroker said the plan is to convert the building into commercial space that future tenants can improve upon.

“We hope to build out that space,” he said. “The space is gorgeous on the inside as it is on the outside, and we hope to find good community partners, not-for-profits, resources for the neighborhood and make that space available to them.”

With the approval from the LCRA, Stroker said he hopes the paperwork for the project, and variance and incentive approval from the Board of Aldermen, will be completed in time for construction to begin in the summer by general contractor EM Harris. He expects the total project will take about 18 months to complete.

Eric Schmid covers economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.