The goal of Beyond Housing’s Once and for All effort is to transform the many under-resourced communities within the Normandy schools footprint in North St. Louis County to strengthen not only these communities but the entire St. Louis region.
A large part of this effort is focused on helping families lift themselves out of poverty and into the economic mainstream.
Beyond Housing operates 500 units of service-enriched, affordable rental housing to families in this area. These homes typically have a 97% occupancy rate with very low turnover and few unplanned moves. Even during the pandemic, tenants maintained this stability, thanks in part to the Housing Resource Coordination Program.
This innovative program is a centerpiece of Beyond Housing’s comprehensive model for community development. Founded in 2014, it combines affordable rental housing with support services ranging from financial education to crisis intervention to referrals.
In 2021, the Housing Resource Coordination Program received a $100,000 grant from Boeing to continue to address inequities of opportunity. The timing was auspicious because many of the families and children are still struggling financially and emotionally due to the pandemic, and this funding allowed Beyond Housing to provide services to more than 550 families through a team of Housing Resource Specialists. In 2021 alone, they connected with families in more than 6,000 engagements.
“Our number one priority during the pandemic was housing stability,” said Senior Director of Housing Cory Dickens. “A large majority of residents experienced reduced income, job loss, illness, and many other hardships. Our Housing Resource Specialists connected these families to over $1 million in rent and utility assistance, ensuring that zero families faced homelessness during the pandemic.”
The goal of the Housing Resource Coordination Program is to work with residents to increase housing stability so they can achieve economic self-sufficiency and accumulate wealth. Research shows that people who face housing instability are less likely to make progress toward their future goals.
Beyond Housing’s experiences in more than three decades of providing affordable housing services in the St. Louis region bear that out. The Housing Resource Coordination Program currently serves families in 425 housing units in North St. Louis County, including 95 units in two senior (55+ years old) buildings, as well as more than a hundred families in homes across St. Louis County.
The households are predominantly African American, are headed by females, and have an average income of less than $36,000. Most have at least one child. Although the vast majority of these families have a source of earned income, many still struggle to meet their basic needs and remain stably housed.
“Thanks to the generous support of Boeing, Beyond Housing’s Housing Resource Coordination team was able to provide hope for a better tomorrow,” Dickens said. “Specifically, we worked with families to set self-identified goals and referred them to local partner agencies for resources to ensure success.”
The Boeing grant, which was awarded in July 2021, sets targets for the number of families who set and reach goals such as improving their credit scores or increasing their incomes. This puts them on the path toward a larger goal of homeownership. Not only is owning a home beneficial to families as a way to establish financial independence and build generational wealth, it also further stabilizes the local community.
In 2020, Beyond Housing started a two-year pilot program to increase homeownership among families in its rental homes. In its first year alone, the Keys 2 Homeownership program yielded impressive results: Of the families who moved out of Beyond Housing’s rental units in 2020, 32% did so to become homeowners with the assistance of the nonprofit’s budgeting counseling, matching savings, and down payment assistance programs. In 2019, that number was only 6%.
Doing more of what works
The grant from Boeing will support additional families in meeting their basic needs and growing toward future goals, whether through internal Beyond Housing programs such as Keys 2 Homeownership or via referrals to outside agencies.
“Looking ahead, we have expanded our Keys 2 Homeownership program to double our homeowner outreach—including to clients within the community,” Dickens said. “We are also gearing up to restructure our Housing Resource Coordination program as a pilot to provide a more specialized case management model for transformational change, wrapping all services around a family in alignment with Beyond Housing’s holistic model.”
The opportunity to expand services to the community is huge. For low-income families in North St. Louis County, finding quality, affordable rental housing continues to be a major challenge. More than 3,700 families in the region are “rent burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30% of their income on rent. Rent-burdened families struggle to maintain stable housing, and frequent moves can deplete their resources, leading to poor health and educational outcomes and sometimes forcing families to settle for sub-standard living arrangements.
On an individual level, families frequently express their appreciation for the Housing Resource Coordination Program and its staff. One resident, Ms. Y, shared, “I couldn’t have got through this without you. The nervousness and worry taxes me all the time. It’s people like you who make life more manageable for people like me.”
The Boeing grant allows Beyond Housing to strengthen families such as Ms. Y’s, increasing equity and ultimately leading to a stronger St. Louis region.