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Quarter 3 2021, Volume 9 Issue 3

Beyond Housing: Multigenerational Homeownership for a St. Louis Family

The neighborhoods served by Beyond Housing on the northern edge of St. Louis, MO are predominantly Black and have some of the lowest per capita incomes in the region. To support these families, Beyond Housing has raised $125 million since 2010, including $48 million in affordable housing construction and $10 million in home repair grants. While the funding raised to invest in this community provides a bigger picture, the organization’s mission comes alive through stories of clients like Juana Cowens. In 1994, after spending six months in shelters, the mother of four young daughters moved into a Beyond Housing rental home using her Section 8 eligibility.

During her two years in the rental home, Ms. Cowens began earning a steady income—thanks in part to Beyond Housing’s comprehensive services such as childcare, camps, and financial education training. By 1996, Ms. Cowens had progressed to the point where she could pay the full amount of the monthly rent. At that point, much to her surprise, Beyond Housing’s CEO Chris Krehmeyer shared she was financially ready to buy a home of her own. Ms. Cowens reminisced about those days recently with Krehmeyer: “In 1996, I was one of the first people to buy a house through their home buying program,” she said.

When Ms. Cowens lost her job in 2009 during the Great Recession, Beyond Housing’s staff members helped her avoid foreclosure after she missed three months of mortgage payments. They offered her a temporary job and reminded her, “Don’t give up, get tougher.” Ms. Cowens took that advice and did not give up. She battled through tough times, including a divorce and a medical condition. She also shared her successes, including graduating from college in 2010 – a joint celebration with two of her daughters, who also earned their degrees that year. Ms. Cowens currently works as a skills advisor, helping customers apply for food stamps and job training. “I can relate to what they’re going through,” stated Ms. Cowens.

Ms. Cowens has steadily continued to build wealth by working with Beyond Housing on her finances and through homeownership. She moved to her current home in 2020, during the same week as her wedding to her husband, John. She says one of her proudest accomplishments is her four daughters – LaJuana, TaJuana, LaTanya, and LaToya – three of whom are now homeowners themselves. The fourth is saving money toward buying a house. “They always say they’re glad I taught them to stand up, advocate for themselves, and be self-sufficient,” said Ms. Cowens. In turn, she credited Chris Krehmeyer at Beyond Housing, remarking, “Without his friendship and support, I wouldn't be who I am.”

Financial Education Focus

The path to homeownership starts uphill for many of the residents in North St. Louis County. Preparing prospective homebuyers for a successful climb is part of Beyond Housing’s ongoing mission. The nonprofit offers free, interactive financial education seminars for tenants in Beyond Housing’s rental homes, covering everything from building a credit history to setting up a budget.

Beyond Housing also partners with organizations such as the St. Louis Regional Financial Empowerment Coalition to offer free classes that demystify the homeownership journey. They range from presentations by bankers to panel discussions featuring key people within the process. These educational efforts acknowledge barriers faced by Black homebuyers and homeowners – but highlight the importance of overcoming the barriers and building personal wealth by investing in a home.

house with keys

Customized Support for Prospective Homebuyers

Beyond Housing supports families in its 500 rental housing units on the path toward homeownership and customizes services to each individual’s circumstances and goals. These are just a few of the programs the organization offers:

  • One-on-one financial education and monthly seminars on topics like budgeting and credit
  • Eight hours of homebuyer education, followed by one-on-one counseling sessions
  • Customer online tools such as Beyond Housing’s Compass, a secure portal for tracking documents, making appointments, and getting answers to questions