We’ve all seen dilapidated buildings, with their broken windows and crumbling facades. For some, these structures are simply part of a backdrop. They’re often referred to as “vacant properties,” or “blight.” However, many struggling people in cities across our country have another word for it.
While there are some affordable housing options in St. Louis, the need far outweighs availability. Building by building, Lutheran Development Group (LDG) is creating a new choice for people stuck between unaffordable, luxurious renovations and scraping by in subpar living conditions. Chris Shearman, founder and Executive Director of LDG, acknowledges that even as more apartments open, there are many more people without access to safe housing.
Chris has seen families living in homes with walls falling off or without floors. People without good credit or with an eviction history must often settle, often with hazardous spaces or uncaring landlords. The impact spreads from the tenants to the community, as buildings in disrepair contribute to blight and other neighborhood issues.
SERVICE OPPORTUNITY: If you’d like to help address this issue by rehabbing a building with Laborers for Christ, contact LCEF Ministry Support today at (314) 855-6444 or ministry.support@LCEF.org.
How Serving the Community Changed the Course of Chris Shearman’s Career
Not too long ago, Chris thought he wanted to go to law school. His wife, meanwhile, was opening a neighborhood café. After working for a for-profit developer downtown, he helped her manage her café and became more involved with neighborhood initiatives.
Now, he works full-time as the Executive Director of LDG, an organization he founded in 2015. Since Chris started this work, LDG has grown to an organization with six full-time staff members.
The idea for the operation came around 2013, as community concerns overlapped with the desire for congregations to connect with more people. Chris and other members of Messiah Lutheran Church saw many people, especially recent refugees, living in shabby housing, to their detriment.
East Fox Homes grew from the combined efforts of RISE Community Development, LDG and Messiah Lutheran Church. The result was an $11.7 million renovation of twelve buildings and 47 quality, affordable apartments.
Lutheran Development Group Tackles Blight and Affordable Housing to Build Local Relationships with Congregations
People in the vicinity of two St. Louis LCMS churches, Holy Cross and Messiah, had identified blight and affordable housing as significant needs. With a lot of homes in disrepair and many people seeking a good home, LDG has focused on working in these neighborhoods to address the affordable housing shortage and improve the neighborhood at the same time.
In September of this year providing for this housing need become a reality when LDG in partnership with these two congregations completed the purchase of 18 buildings that will provide 59 clean and affordable housing units to a community that is in a great need for them.
Chris and his team collaborated with other local organizations, such as RISE and the Dutchtown South Community Development Corporation, and attended community meetings that culminated in the Gravois-Jefferson Historic Neighborhoods Plan, now officially adopted by the City of St. Louis.
A Nuanced, Future-Focused Approach to a Complex and Urgent Problem
Affordable housing and blight are complex problems that no one entity can tackle completely. While LDG is pleased to be able to offer quality homes with compassionate landlords, tenants, of course, still need an income to be able to pay their rent.
Megan Euken has recently taken the role of Community Coordinator. In this role, Megan will be working with renters to build meaningful connections to service providers to interrupt previous behaviors or circumstances that have led to poor credit or evictions.
Casey Carlson, LCEF DVP for the Missouri District, worked on the financing for the project. He says, “It’s a fantastic project to be a part of, it shows great partnership between congregations and organizations and shows the commitment of the Church in serving the needs of the Community. On top of that it quite literally brings the love of Jesus into the homes, and also allows LDG, Holy Cross, and Messiah directly into the living rooms of those in Community how awesome is that!”
How You Can Help: Laborers for Christ Seeking Workers for St. Louis Renovation
LDG recently started work on three buildings on Oregon. In profound disrepair, these buildings will need to be rebuilt “from the studs up,” according to Laborers for Christ Director, Jeff Herndon.
After rehab, these buildings will offer eight apartments. That will mean eight families who can feel safe inside their home, free from worry about lead or other hazards. It means they can focus on building their lives, instead of worrying about their walls or ceilings. If the roof over their head starts to leak, they will have a land lord they can count on.
Laborers for Christ needs people who are willing to show up regularly to transform these blighted properties into a place to call home.
If you or someone you know wants to contribute to building a profound connection for congregations in St. Louis, contact LCEF Ministry Support today at (314) 855-6444 or ministry.support@LCEF.org.