St. Louisans defying the odds (and why that’s good for all of us).

This article originally appeared on stlmag.com

I’ve written a lot about the work of Beyond Housing and our partners in transforming the many under-resourced communities in North St. Louis County—and why reversing decades of decline and poverty in these communities is vital for the success of the greater St. Louis region.

In addition to the physical improvement in these communities with hundreds of new homes and significant economic development replacing decay and blight, there is also the human transformation. Every year we see many personal success stories of St. Louisans who are overcoming great challenges to achieve their dreams.

One of those St. Louisans is Jeree Hoskins. Jeree, a single mother of two children, has a personal history of housing instability, going back to her childhood. “Growing up, we moved around a lot, living with relatives or in shelters for women and children,” Jeree says. “My only stable residence was my grandmother’s house.”

Jeree’s pattern of housing instability continued throughout her early adulthood. In 2017, a chance encounter with Beyond Housing’s Senior Director of Housing, Cory Dickens, introduced her to our organization’s affordable housing rental program which also provides holistic services. Jeree says, “I immediately asked where I could sign up, because I would love to benefit from those housing and education resources.”

Jeree began renting one of our organization’s affordable rental homes in Pine Lawn—a 3-bedroom, 2.5 bath new construction with an attached garage—for only $615 a month. In addition to the affordable rent, she began taking advantage of the holistic services provided to all the renters of our 619 rental homes. These services are designed to strengthen families like Jeree’s by serving a comprehensive range of needs including educational resources like financial literacy and homebuying education.

Jeree recognized the parallels between her own family’s experiences and the challenges Beyond Housing strives to address, including generational poverty and its devastating effects from a lack of education and opportunity to domestic violence. “I’ve been through all of that. I understand those struggles,” she says. Jeree wanted something different for her own family, and she was eager to learn strategies to achieve her goals. “Sometimes in our community, financial literacy is not something that’s promoted or talked about,” Jeree says. “A lot of people aspire to be homeowners, but they just don’t know the right steps.”

Over the next few years, Jeree and her family enjoyed a newfound stability. Jeree began attending college for accounting. “When I went to school for finance, my life changed,” she recalls. “You can’t go wrong studying finance to understand the basics of debt and credit and making sure your revenue exceeds your expenses.”

To achieve her dream of homeownership, Jeree also began taking seminars and classes from the Beyond Housing homebuying education team and met one-on-one with counselors from the St. Louis Community Prosperity Bank. She learned about other resources that are available and began saving for a down payment. “I went from living check to check to living on 50% and putting the other 50% up,” Jeree says.

When Jeree encountered setbacks—like an extended illness during the COVID pandemic—Beyond Housing’s holistic services provided assistance to weather the storm. “I wanted to give up many times, because it was hard,” she says. “A lot of people are ashamed to ask for help, but the beautiful thing about this organization is there’s no judgment.”

Jeree got her family’s finances in order and knew it was time to move out of the comfortable nest.

“When you go through hard things in life, you either take the stance that someone owes you something or you humble yourself, be appreciative, and make space for others,” she reflects. And that’s what prompted her to finally send her longtime Beyond Housing contact, Cory Dickens, an email that she had outgrown the rental program. “I was really sad to leave, but I knew I had to vacate that space for someone else like me to take advantage of the program.”

Jeree also knew that buying a home would contribute to her long-term goal of passing down wealth to her two children, a 13-year-old daughter and 5-year-old son. “As a parent from the background that I have, with so much instability and not seeing a lot of individuals who were homeowners, overcoming financial hurdles with Beyond Housing’s support has transformed me as a woman and a mother,” she said. “It’s an indescribable feeling.”

Jeree Hoskins in front of her new home.

A yard, an entertainment room, and a French bulldog named Cookie

In March 2023, Jeree and her two children moved into a 3-story, 3,000-square-foot home in the Central West End. The seller offered to let her choose some of the finishes and appliances—“and I got to paint a wall in my makeup room orange, my favorite color,” she said. “It’s a homey feeling to have your own touch on your place.” The highest level of the family’s new house is a special oasis. “My kids want to chill at home because the third floor has a media room and playroom with a projector and screen to show movies.”

While she joked that she misses being able to call maintenance, she dived right into yard work. She bought a lawnmower and weed trimmer and planted elephant ears, tulips, and rose bushes. The family also has a new dog, a French bulldog puppy named Cookie, who can roam in the fenced backyard.

“I have stopped generational curses that have affected my family for 5 generations,” she says. “My daughter is 13 and is already asking about financial preparedness. My favorite part of this journey is knowing we have the financial stability of generational wealth being passed down.”

Creating new homeowners is just one facet of a comprehensive effort that includes housing, economic development, education, health, employment, and civic government.

Making communities and our entire region stronger

Jeree is just one of many new homeowners who have rented our affordable housing units and taken advantage of the holistic support provided.

Many of these new homeowners still live within the communities that we serve and are playing a major role homeowners in the continual transformation. According to a 2021 analysis, median home values within the Normandy schools footprint were expected to increase by 15 percent by 2025, and owner-occupied homes were expected to increase by 27 percent. MLS data, however, shows that the actual rates are even more impressive. Financially stable homeowners contributed to a 33 percent increase in property values from 2010 to 2023.

Creating new homeowners is just one facet of the comprehensive work taking place in North St. Louis County which includes housing, economic development, education, health, employment, and civic government. It’s the culmination of this work that is creating real change—for both these communities and the greater region.

Investing in our under-resourced communities and helping more St. Louisans join the economic mainstream is vital for breaking the cycle of poverty and decline in our region and creating a stronger, more equitable, and prosperous St. Louis—once and for all.

If you would like to learn more about our work, please visit Once and for All. If you are interested in our work and ways to help, I would love to talk with you.