North of Delmar Boulevard in the city of St. Louis are communities that are suffering from generations of racist housing policies and failed real estate markets. This leaves the majority Black and brown neighborhoods full of vacant homes and buildings with no access to key services or community institutions. These vacant properties attract crime which lowers real estate values and threatens the social and environmental wellbeing of the residents.
Enter Dream Builders 4 Equity, a nonprofit founded by Michael Woods and Neal Richardson, two leaders in the St. Louis community development field. Dream Builders seeks to turn these trends around by building intergenerational wealth in Black and brown communities by engaging, educating, and employing young people to redevelop their neighborhoods.
Dream Builders accomplishes this through a comprehensive summer program that combines youth employment, leadership development, vacant property rehabilitation, support for minority contractors, financial empowerment, and arts-based entrepreneurship. This essentially means that students who participate are work paid summer jobs that are acquired through STL Youth Jobs, which enables them to work shoulder to shoulder with minority contractors to learn the basics of real estate and construction. Then, the homes that they work on through the program are sold by Black-owned brokerages to first-time homeowners.
If interested buyers aren’t financially ready to purchase a home, then Dreams Builders partners with nonprofit Justine Petersen so that these individuals have access to credit building and financial management resources and can one day become homeowners in the future.
Some of the revenue from the sale of these rehabilitated homes is used to ensure that the program keeps going. The rest of the revenue is used to start college savings funds for each student participant. On top of helping students learn through real estate development activities and creating savings that will go towards their post-secondary education, students also get to participate in financial literacy courses, engage with guest speakers, and receive leadership training.
Participating students are also asked to keep a daily journal about their experiences. At the end of the program, each student compiles a selection of their journal entries which include poems, stories, drawings, etc. These compilations are collected and published in a book. All proceeds from book sales are given directly to the students.
However, the impact of Dream Builders’ work goes beyond funding participating student’s post-secondary education and offering other avenues for learning and personal growth. Their work also builds wealth for people who already live in the neighborhood, as rehabilitation and sale of new homes improve area real estate values. Plus, they support local minority-owned businesses and inspire other young people in the community to do great things.
On top of all of this, participating students also provide free owner-occupied home repairs for low-income and elderly neighbors, and this summer, they are providing free lawncare services to 150 families in the Hyde Park neighborhood. The repairs and maintenance work not only add to the recipients’ quality of life, but they uplift the entire neighborhood and allow residents to feel proud of where they live.
“If you see beautiful houses, maintained parks, no trash, benches where you can sit and play… that is a community you want to live in,” says Davian, one of this summer’s Dream Builders. “We go around the neighborhood and talk with people. Just good, friendly communication to build bonds. Because strong bonds build strong communities.”
Since Dream Builders 4 Equity has launched, it has provided 62 young people with over $600,000 in wages, over $40,000 in book sale proceeds, and over $60,000 in equity from the sale of homes.
Image source: Dream Builders 4 Equity