On April 17, 1973, ten people from the Ville neighborhood met with Fr. Bill Hutchison in the basement of the St. Matthew Church rectory to discuss the needs of the neighborhood. They decided that one of the greatest needs of the neighborhood was services for Senior Citizens and a place where they could come together. Fr. Hutchison then contacted the Mayor’s Office for Senior Citizens, which administered federal funds from the Older Americans Act allocated to the City of St. Louis. After several visits with the staff and a review of a written proposal, the Mayor’s Office funded what became Northside Community Center to provide congregate meals, a few home delivered meals and some recreation for Senior Citizens. The Principal of St. Matthew School, Sr. Maureen Filter, graciously allowed Seniors to use a small section of the cafeteria in the basement of St. Matthew School at 4102 Maffitt Avenue for the Senior Citizens Center. Mrs. Mayola Watkins volunteered to teach seniors sewing and ceramics. Within three months, seven sewing machines were donated to the Center from a local church, and the Mayor’s Office allocated funds to purchase a kiln and green ware for ceramics.
Among the neighborhood leaders who planned the programs for the Center as it opened its doors on July 1, 1973 were Erna Martin, Marguerite McIntyre, Sophia Westfall, Olga Tobias from Antioch Baptist Church, Doris Hebron, Mrs. Carter, Gladys Beeks, Naomi Durham from Pleasant Grove Missionary Baptist Church, and Mr. Andrew Johnson from St. Philip’s Lutheran Church.
Application was made to incorporate the Center. Among the first Board members were Rev. William Collins, Pastor of Antioch Baptist Church; Rev. Cecil Howard, Pastor of James A.M.E. Church; and George Brown and Bill Watkins, parishioners at St. Matthew Catholic Church. Sr. Jeanette Rezentes, an intern from the School of Social Service of Saint Louis University made up flyers and visited over 40 homes in the neighborhood to invite seniors to come to the opening.
Within five years, the Center outgrew its space in the basement of St. Matthew School and moved next door to 4120 Maffitt Avenue, the former convent of St. Matthew School. Through the generous gifts of the McDonnell Douglas Employees Charity Fund, the Webb Foundation, the Monsanto Fund, the Roblee Foundation, the U.S. Bishops Campaign for Human Development, and the St. Matthew Jesuit Community gift, a $100,000 renovation was done in the former convent. This facility still serves as the Senior Center and offices for the Senior Citizen programs and the youth programs which began in 1974.
In 1977, the Center’s Housing Program began renovating several homes and apartment buildings in the neighborhood. In 1986, a $1 million renovation of the former St. Matthew School into 20 apartment units primarily for seniors was completed. Over the next 23 years, the Housing Program completed the rehabilitation of 93 affordable rental units in the neighborhood which were leased to low-income community residents.
In 2003, the Housing Program separated from the Center to become its own not-for-profit corporation, Northside Community Housing, Inc. (NCHI) and turned its focus to building single-family subdivisions in the Greater Ville neighborhood, the majority of which were constructed under the Low Income Housing Tax Credit program, with the intention of providing future home ownership opportunities for its tenants. To date, NCHI has developed a total of 75 new single-family homes, 10 of which have been sold to owner-occupants. NCHI is currently lead General Partner on an additional 40-unit LIHTC and historic rehab project on Dick Gregory Place. By engaging private investors and public agencies, to date, our work represents a $34 million investment in affordable housing in the distressed community. Although our work has been concentrated in the Ville community, NCHI’s redevelopment efforts is expanding to other north St. Louis neighborhoods.
NCHI has been recognized by city, state, and federal officials. In 2007, NCHI received a City of St. Louis Developer of the Year Award from Mayor Francis Slay. The same year, Governor Matt Blunt presented us the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Affordable Housing. In 2009, former U.S. Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond supported our preservation efforts with a $1 million federal earmark to renovate eight of NCHI’s oldest buildings. Thanks to Senator Bond, NCHI was able to leverage another $950,000 from the Missouri Housing Development Commission to complete the project.
In addition to bricks-and-mortar development, NCHI partners with agencies to assist residents with forming block units and to provide financial education and assistance with budgeting, credit repair, savings, and purchasing a home.