What to do when you find yourself in a declining neighborhood
Some St Louisans are finding themselves in the middle of a declining neighborhood today even though the news is touting what a hot real estate market St Louis is experiencing. A declining neighborhood definitely goes against the grain of “wealth building” through real estate. In the St Louis area this is happening mostly north of the infamous “Delmar Divide”.
When my husband and I bought our first home, we were looking to live in an urban neighborhood that was inclusionary. Inclusionary housing is now mandatory in some areas. Inclusionary housing is the “integration of affordable units into market-rate projects which creates opportunities for households with diverse socioeconomic backgrounds to live in the same developments and have access to same types of community services and amenities.” (See Inclusionary Housing and Mixed-Income communities)
We accomplished our goal by buying a really run-down home at a bargain price. The neighborhood included low income rentals and homes of varying size and price.
We were not able to move in immediately because the house we bought needed aired out of the cat smell. Seriously, the previous owner was very eccentric and was known in the neighborhood as “the cat lady”. No one knew how many she had. So on this small city lot she had constructed a “cat walk” (no, it was not at all attractive). Her cats could leave directly from the back door and go through this maze of a zigzagging contraption that was approximately 50 feet in total. And, yes, it was the first thing to come down.
So every weekend we worked on the outside of the house. We met all of the neighbors this way. They would stop by and exchange pleasantries and soon we had created a “neighborhood”. We started to know each other. Then what happened was kind of a turn about. Our neighbors started working on their homes. And, we were stopping by and chatting with them while they were working on their yards and painting their front doors. Soon the whole “feel” of our street and neighborhood began to change. We were a neighborhood with a smiling curb appeal. We were a neighborhood experiencing increasing values, desirability and quality of life.
My husband and I were not alone in doing something like this in the seventies. Now I am finding some of the retiring baby boomers are still like minded and are either finding themselves in declining neighborhoods after the real estate “bust” or looking to buy in them. Some of the millennials who are debt ridden with tuition payments are finding these areas attractive for both price point and livability.
So what happens when this is your home
Located on a lovely street north of the “Delmar Divide”…
and this is your neighbor
Hopefully, these tips may help keep these types of neighborhoods inclusionary and increase the quality of life in the neighborhood:
- First and foremost find the “leader”. Ask your councilman/representative to have a method for his constituents to report to him so that problem houses in the neighborhood can be identified. I know from experience how hard and potentially dangerous it can be to directly confront a neighbor who is a problem. However if it is done by the official representative of the neighborhood, there is less chance of retaliation and conflict. Examples of things to report: a vehicle that has been abandoned on the driveway or backyard; front yard barbecues; loud music; lack of yard maintenance; suspicion of drug activity. These kinds of things should be discussed with and reported to your official representative to avoid direct confrontation with your neighbor. If your council person does not have a system for this kind of reporting, see if you can help him start something.
- Offer to help neighbors who have had a reversal of health or income. Many retired people are finding it difficult to keep their properties in good condition and sometimes just offering to cut their grass can make a difference for them and the neighborhood.
- Meet your neighbors and start a list of names and contact information. Knowing at least 10 to 20 of your neighbors creates a “community” . Working together is an easier way to stop a potential neighborhood nuisance before it gets out of hand.
I continue to live in a socioeconomically diverse neighborhood. My neighborhood is stable now having successfully survived its time as a declining neighborhood about fifteen to twenty years ago. I live in Skinker-Debaliviere. We have renters and homeowners, elderly walking to St Roch’s Church and the young walking to Washington University. We have a neighborhood association and keep in touch when problems occur. Supporting and living in Inclusionary neighborhoods is a highly effective method for real estate wealth building for all socioeconomic levels and provides a high quality of life.
“I would encourage you to keep in mind all those people around us who are trapped in a cycle of poverty. They too need to be given hope. The fight against poverty and hunger must be fought constantly and on many fronts, especially in its causes.” –Pope Francis in remarks to Congress, September 2015
Restoring Declining Neighborhoods
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I like your comments and suggestions. Buying property in a declining neighborhood, improving it rather than letting it run down, and living in it as an owner occupant are the three top factors to neighborhood success. Too many politicians and journalists TALK about what should be done about the Delmar Divide from their comfortable exclusive, expensive non diverse neighborhoods. Skinker DeBaliviere has many stabilizing factors such as proximity to Wash U, Forest Park, and the medical centers which the area I grew up in North County does not.