2017 Tower Grove Neighborhoods Community Development Corporation Report to the Community

"You don't make progress by standing on the sidelines whimpering and complaining.  You make progress by implementing ideas," stated Shirley Crishom (American politician, educator, and author).  As 2017 has come to a close, Tower Grove Neighborhoods Community Development Corporation (TGNCDC) is proud to report our work to the community we serve in Southwest Garden, Shaw and Tower Grove South neighborhoods.  Even in a challenging fiscal environment, TGNCDC has proactively pursued implementing ideas/activities and is building a sustaining model for community improvement without Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds as a major budget line item, which is a long standing model in St. Louis City.  We're in the third year of our five year strategic plan (download here) which was developed from our 20 year vision and framework plan (download here).  TGNCDC defined the needs of the community and has focused our work on market rate and affordable housing development (for sale and rental), tenant screening, vacant property eradication, infrastructure improvements/beautification, landlord training, neighborhood marketing, commercial corridor improvements and resident support systems. Strategic real estate development is a critical and effective way to help improve neighborhoods by attracting people to live, work and invest.  In 2017, TGNCDC purchased 3751 Potomac Ave. (10 years vacant and one of the last vacant properties on the block), 4620 Arsenal St. (long vacant and blighted property in a highly visible location), and 3631 Bamberger Ave.  TGNCDC also purchased 3723 and 3629 Hydraulic Ave. from speculators holding over 200 buildings in St. Louis, with a majority being vacant and nuisance properties.  This is a major accomplishment. Read more about them at http://www.stltoday.com/news/local/metro/lured-by-cheap-st-louis-foreclosures-a-california-investor-buys/article_1a423fee-fa30-5070-94e6-fae88f888f10.html.  All the properties are in different stages of development but our goal is to use the strategically identified purchases/renovations to attract more home owners to these under-invested blocks.  In all, we're in the process of developing our 11th affordable single family home in 36 months.

TGNCDC also facilitates development by linking developers to development opportunities. 3715 Bamberger was purchased by TGNCDC and sold to a developer who is renovating the property.  TGNCDC replaced the roof and completed major tuck-pointing/facade rebuild and lost about $10,000 to make the development a reality.

The development of 4065 Russell is another example of development facilitation.  TGNCDC partnered with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to provide a grant for the Phase 1 report.  TGNCDC specializes in hazardous waste remediation through grants.  This helps developers obtain property without additional loans/costs and saves them time.  4066 Russell was also remediated with help from TGNCDC and marketed for redevelopment.  And a long term nuisance property located at 3901 Shaw was secured by the city. The Wild Carrot Event space was selected as a redevelopment project with TGNCDC assisting the Shaw Neighborhood Improvement Association with public engagement efforts.

TGNCDC is using a selective rehabilitation model and rental portfolio development to help neighborhoods and to help fund our operations.  We added 3731 and 3735 Bamberger (8 units) to our rental portfolio in 2017 which included a full gut renovation on two units and selective rehabs on the other 6 units.

TGNCDC offers the South Tower Grove South housing at $450-525 a month range for professionally managed, updated and quality apartments that are close to shopping, transportation and jobs. 72% of all TGNCDC owned units are leased to tenants making 80% or less to median income.  We've added 66 units in the first three years of the plan (two ahead of the five year goal) and we're still growing.  First Bank provided a generous grant and refinancing terms to help our efforts in South Tower Grove South.  TGNCDC also completed $100,000 in deferred maintenance repairs, including but not limited to fresh paint, porch repair, new decks, masonry, gutters, and window replacement, on all ten properties located in Shaw that were purchased in 2016 with the help of a $200,000 grant and financing from TIAA Direct.  TGNCDC is redefining how banks make investments with Community Development Corporations.

ScreenDoor, our tenant screening operation, will be renamed and re-branded as 'HomeScreen' in 2018.  This program has tremendous potential to grow our revenue while supporting our mission driven activities.   The HomeScreen website is being built and we've already started beta testing the new back-end processing application, Tazworks.  TGNCDC partnered with Equifax who is reviewing additional data on our past tenant screening applicants to develop three new risk profiles to help landlords make leasing decisions for people who may not meet the traditional screening standards.  This will allow us to develop a more efficient workflow, increase productivity and create a superior product.  We hope to launch the new HomeScreen brand, website and application in the 2nd quarter of 2018.

We processed 2397 tenant screening applications in 2017. We passed our 2017 goal of 2000 applications back in mid October 2017. In December 2017, 75% of the applications were processed using the online application. We started the online application processing in January 2015.

TGNCDC's work on vacant properties dates back to the beginning of our organization.  In addition to updating our existing database of vacant properties in our service area, TGNCDC,  in partnership with St. Louis University Law Clinic, received a $15,000 RISE Collaborative grant to create a guide to eliminating vacancy in St. Louis City.  This is a proactive approach to educating neighborhood residents, businesses, government officials and other stakeholders on how to address vacancy from the City departmental procedures to private tools including some case studies.   For the case studies, TGNCDC identified two vacant property owners: one at 3708/3710 Bamberger and one at 3451 S. Grand.  The first attempt to use the statutory nuisance tool was against the owner of 3708/3710 Bamberger.  TGNCDC assembled a group of neighbors within 1,200 feet of the nuisance property, including itself (TGNCDC owns property within 1,200 feet); the group decided to file suit as property owners.  With pro-bono legal work provided by the law firm of Beck Ostrom Sweet, the plaintiffs (as property owners) brought statutory nuisance claims for both injunctive relief and monetary damages against the owner of the nuisance property.  The case successfully influenced the owner to make improvements to the property, including fresh paint, new windows, new doors, new trim, and other related improvements.  It was evident that the threat of the lawsuit (i.e. the statutorily required letter giving the owner 60 days to comply) was enough to motivate the owner to start construction.  The result is two improved facades, the removal of blight, and a reduction of the perception of neighborhood disinvestment.

Multiple Community Development Block Grants grants were administered including Landlord Training, South Grand Priority District Lighting Improvement activity,Wireless For All activity.  Landlord Training completed seven seminars and trained over 300 landlords on proper property management, incentive and regulatory programs, and maintenance.   About 40 LED lights replaced dated Cobra-head lights along Grand Blvd. from Utah Ave. to Meramec Ave. in partnership with St. Louis Streets Department to increase safety and improve visibility.

TGNCDC is also actively working on an innovative way to provide wireless access to low to moderate income residents along Grand Ave. from Arsenal St. to Chippewa Ave.  TGNCDC will purchase and install multiple Wireless devices to charge and provide free WiFi.  Last, through a grant from the PNC Bank, TGNCDC partnered with the Covenant House (https://www.covenanthouse.org/) for clean up activities in South Tower Grove South.  The TGNCDC board approved extending the contract through 2018, after the PNC grant expired in Oct 2017.

Collaborative efforts with Tower Grove Park, MoBot (Missouri Botanical Garden), Greater Gravois Initiative and others have also begun. We also completed dozens of neighborhood tours with developers and investors in the area.  We also attended and reported at neighborhood association meetings.

TGNCDC is also an Energy Foundation grant awardee for advocacy of improved policy regarding energy efficiency of affordable multi-family housing for low to moderate income tenants.  This is the third year we've been awarded the grant to work on ways to reduce the cost burden of energy consumption in rental properties.

For the second year in a row, Tower Grove Neighborhoods Community Development Corporation (TGNCDC) in partnership with STL Programs distributed a community resource guide (originally created in 2016) and directory for the residents of Shaw, Southwest Garden, and Tower Grove neighborhoods. The 80-page resource guide includes a comprehensive list maps, neighborhood association information, social services, local events, housing and historic district information, history and much more.  It was sent to over 1800 households by mail.

TGNCDC hosted a wildly successful fundraiser "All in for Change- Speakeasy" on November 11, 2017 at the Vault in Tower Grove South at Gravois Ave. and South Grand Ave.  Over 300 people attended, more than 3 times the attendance from 2016.  We were supported by over 35 sponsors, including TIAA Direct as the Presenting Sponsor.  We raised funds to help our affordable housing and operational goals.  Four neighborhood awards were presented for Shaw (Shaw Community Center), Tower Grove South (Erin Counihan), Tower Grove Heights (Tricia Heliker) and Southwest Garden (Trish Erwin).  A Banking Partner of the Year award was presented to TIAA Direct and accepted by Angela Turner on behalf of TIAA and Joseph Hernandez.

We're extremely fortunate to serve the growing middle market neighborhoods of Shaw, Tower Grove South and Southwest Garden in St. Louis City.  When resources come together to support planned efforts to improve an area, great things can be accomplished.  This continued work throughout Saint Louis City, by CDCs such as Tower Grove Neighborhoods CDC, will continue the path of a revitalized/re-imagined City.  We look forward to being an important part of the story.

Please look for more information on our progress toward our 2018 goals through our blog at www.towergrovecdc.org, Twitter (@towergrovecdc), and Facebook (Tower Grove Neighborhoods CDC) accounts.

UncategorizedSean Spencer