By Roger Drinnon
ST. LOUIS — Sandra James was in tears on a sidewalk in front of St. Paul Lutheran Church, clutching a painting of her son, Trey, who was murdered some time ago in the crime-plagued College Hill, as she sobbed, “I’m here to represent my boy — these children need to be represented.”
In an event of encouragement amid the neighborhood-revitalization efforts in the area, about 50 residents, along with staff and volunteers from LCMS National Housing Support Corporation (NHSC), the College Hill Foundation and the Campaign for College Hill, came together for a “Prayer and Praise Walk” Oct. 17.
“We felt the need to surround this community with prayer and with love,” said Gail Olson, volunteer and organizer of the prayer walk. “We want to pray to rid this community of all the violence and all of the gangs and the drugs.”
Olson has been a volunteer supporting the rebuilding efforts for about 10 years. She said progress in the area is encouraging.
“I’m so excited — I get a happy day whenever I hear that there’s a [newly-built] house that has been sold and another house is going up,” said Olson. “I know what it means for a family, and I know what it means for the community.”
“We’re making great progress and getting some things done,” said Bill Butler, a retired Marine Corps staff sergeant who resides in College Hill who also serves as the Campaign for College Hills (neighborhood association) president. “We’re seeing the new houses being built and new residents coming in.”
LCMS President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison opened the event with prayer, then joined local clergy, St. Louis police and elected officials in walking with residents and other participants to the Nazareth Homes construction site, part of the neighborhood revitalization effort led by NHSC, which also does business as Lutheran Housing Support.
“Our Father in heaven loves it when a neighborhood is thriving. Our Father in heaven loves it when families are doing well. Our Father in heaven loves it when children are being taken care of,” proclaimed Harrison, as he also offered the community words of comfort and the assurance of salvation through Christ’s own suffering and death.
Economic decline and crime reduced the once-vibrant community with its historic buildings — some from the late 19th and early 20th centuries — to an area fraught with dilapidated houses and vacant lots, with some remaining homes and commercial buildings in need of restoration. Residents are hopeful Lutheran Housing Support’s renewal efforts are beginning to make a transformative change. Recent accomplishments include the restoration or repair of more than 80 homes, funded by grants from NHSC and charitable organizations. The rehab of 12 more homes is currently underway.
Other NHSC-led successes include:
- Built two Nazareth Homes to date with a third under construction — of the two completed houses, one has been sold, the other is being used as a model, and the third home is already pre-sold.
- Developed strategic networks and partnerships with over 30 agencies to deliver a variety of health and human services to residents of the neighborhood.
- Since 2007 has brought in $1.8 million in direct and indirect investment to the community.
- Has launched a multiyear, multimillion-dollar capital campaign which will be used for the creation of affordable new housing in College Hill.
“We know that cleaning up neighborhoods, clearing out homes that are dilapidated, cleaning up properties that are abandoned, reduces crime,” Harrison said. “You see, when you have dilapidated, abandoned homes, it just says, ‘Come here, do whatever you want, nobody is going to care.’”
NHSC has been involved in the restoration of College Hill since 2007. Harrison credited NHSC, supporting LCMS congregations and agency partnerships as well as partnerships with the city, local elected officials, construction companies and numerous volunteers, individual donors and other funding partners for the ongoing success of rebuilding College Hill.
“Over the course of many years, the College Hill neighborhood has been plagued with economic challenges. NHSC is committed to the continuation of spearheading the revitalization of this neighborhood, so it is imperative for NHSC and our partners to take a public stand against evil and ask that peace once again rest upon this neighborhood,” said Nicole Ridley, chief executive of LCMS National Housing Support Corporation. “NHSC’s overarching goal is to return College Hill to a diverse community that is market-desirable, self-sustaining and socially, spiritually and economically viable. This walk, coupled with the newly constructed homes, our owner-occupied rehab initiatives and other community development activities, enables us to be well underway.”
Harrison noted that efforts like the College Hill restoration are a way for Lutherans to express their love for the Lord and a way to share that love with others.
“As you look around this neighborhood, it’s easy to look only at the negatives, and yet, there are positives,” said Harrison. “Caught in the gap between the good things and the bad things are a whole lot of people who are on the edge, and they need Christ. It’s a great opportunity to share that we do this for the love of Christ – whether it’s digging a basement for a new home here or walking the street and holding hands and praying with folks who have real challenges with their families.”
LCMS NHSC is a separately-incorporated nonprofit that expands the Synod’s housing ministry. The agency connects LCMS congregations, districts, Recognized Service Organizations and their community partners with expertise and financial resources to help revitalize neighborhoods and provide affordable housing.
In addition to College Hill, NHSC has partnered with congregations and civic and business leaders to revitalize the Spring Creek Nehemiah area in New York City, the Ezra Housing project in Chicago and the Lutheran Community Outreach Center in Fort Wayne, Ind.
To learn more, visit nationalhousingsupport.org.
Roger Drinnon is manager of Editorial Services for LCMS Communications.
Posted Nov. 10, 2014