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Hebert Homes wants to make it easier for lower-income families to own a home of their own

Pastor Andre Alexander stands in front of heavy machinery and pallets of bricks.
Eric Schmid
St. Louis Public Radio
Pastor Andre Alexander stands in front of heavy machinery at the site of Tabernacle Community Development Corporation's Hebert Homes development on Thursday. The housing development will bring 26 new homes to the JeffVanderLou neighborhood mainly for families making less than 80% of the area median income.

A multimillion-dollar development with the goal of adding more housing density and home affordability in north St. Louis’ JeffVanderLou neighborhood broke ground Thursday.

The project by Tabernacle Community Development Corporation includes 15 newly constructed homes and 11 rehabs mostly concentrated on the 3600 block of Hebert Street.

“This is the culmination of six years of hard work of building, planning,” said Pastor Andre Alexander, president of the development corporation. “Really, it’s just the beginning, you celebrate getting to this point, but now we've got to go build the stuff, right?”

In total, Alexander estimates the development will benefit a little more than 100 people once completed in the next 12 to 18 months.

“Every family size is different,” he said. “But the homes that are being built are three bedroom, two-and-a-half bath. The homes we are rehabbing, about half of them are three-bedroom, another half are four-bedroom.”

Twenty-two of the new homes will be designated for families who are ready to buy a home and make below 80% of the area median income, $75,900 for a family of four. Alexander emphasized they’ll be open for anyone who’s ready to move into homeownership in the neighborhood.

“I want to emphasize that you don’t have to be a member of our church or be a family that we currently serve in our nonprofit,” he said. “If you have interest in a home, we’re willing and ready to work with you.”

City leaders cheered the project as an example of an outcome of the goals of St. Louis’ Economic Justice Action Plan, which seeks to reverse the historic harm done to St. Louis’ majority-Black and -brown neighborhoods.

“Neighborhoods like the one we're investing in today have been stuck in a horrible cycle: Developers couldn't build homes because banks would lend money for mortgages and home Improvements due to lack of comparable appraisals,” said St. Louis Mayor Tisharua Jones. “Without an appraisal you can't get a loan and if you can't get a loan, you can't build wealth that begins to end today.”

This new development is an opportunity to reverse that narrative, and Jones said she wants to see more opportunities for organizations interested in executing the work Tabernacle Community Development Corporation is already doing.

“Creating more affordable housing and access to homeownership helps families build wealth and build community,” she said.

Hebert Homes isn’t the only recent development project adding affordable for sale housing stock to the city. Habitat for Humanity St. Louis has a similar project to add these kinds of homes in parts of Gravois Park, Dutchtown, Hyde Park and Old North St. Louis, said SLDC President and CEO Neal Richardson.

“They’re a more scattered site, while Tabernacle is really more focused on the JeffVanderLou neighborhood,” he said.

Both projects benefit from American Rescue Plan Act funding for citywide housing, each receiving $5 million to build homes for households making below 80% of the area median income to buy, Richardson said. They’re also getting about $2 million each in new market tax credits from U.S. Bank, he added.

The money for these housing development projects helps to offset the cost of construction, which may be greater than the value of the homes when they’re sold, Richardson said.

“This is about growing the city’s population and increasing the tax base,” Richardson said. “Having a strong housing stock that is able to meet [families] needs as well and keeping them in the City of St. Louis and even attracting them back.”

Alexander acknowledges the project his organization is undertaking may be met with skepticism from years of empty promises from other developers.

“When you say you’re going to do something, the side-eye comes because it’s like, ‘Is this real? Can I trust it? Will you stay around?’” he said. “The reality of it is you have to earn that trust.”

Community organizers in north St. Louis agree.

“A lot of times these things happen and it’s really capitalism disguised as revolutionary work,” said Antoine T-Dubbo White, an economic justice organizer for WEPOWER.

White was clear he doesn’t see that happening here given Alexander’s ties and past work in the community, but that’s not the case more broadly in north St. Louis.

Fellow WEPOWER economic justice organizer Coral Bello-Martinez lamented how few community members were present for Thursday’s event. “This would have been a beautiful moment for real residents that live around here to come together and celebrate a moment that’s going to be big for their community,” she said. “I wish I saw more residents here because I know Pastor Andre is one person who’s been really involved and committed to the community.”

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