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Glasgow Village exemplifies trend of vanishing homeowners
Home ownership

Glasgow Village exemplifies trend of vanishing homeowners

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Glasgow Village is a classic St. Louis suburb.

It has curvy, oak-lined streets with Scottish names such as Glen Garry Road and Durness Drive. Basketball hoops in driveways and American flags. Trim green yards fronting the kind of 900-square-foot ranch houses that sprouted across north St. Louis County in the years after World War II, home to a generation that moved to the suburbs for a better life.

One ingredient of that better life was homeownership. Those places were built around the idea that people owned the houses they lived in; that they cared for them and the neighborhood. But in Glasgow Village, like many places in that belt of North County, homeownership is fading, neighborhood ties are fraying, and an uncertain future lies ahead.

For decades, the share of people who own their homes in the St. Louis region has been high. It was 71.4 percent in 2000, according to the Census Bureau, and surged to an estimated 75 percent in 2005, as easy mortgages flooded in. It has fallen sharply since, hitting 70.7 percent in the 2010 count, down for the decade.

A few corners of the region added homeowners, places such as Wentzville and Hillsboro, where building was big. The rate declined a bit in much of west St. Louis County and St. Charles. In older parts of North County, it sank. The homeownership rate fell 7 percentage points in Ferguson from 2000 to 2010, 9 points in Berkeley and 11 in Dellwood.

In Glasgow Village, it fell 25 points, from 80 percent to 55. Put another way, in a neighborhood of 2,000 homes, 555 fewer are owner-occupied than were 10 years ago.

HOUSING BUBBLE POPS

Until the last decade, many residents were still the original owners, or their children. They bought in the '50s, raised families and stayed put. When Mary Kay Trudeau-Mitchell moved back to her childhood home after three decades away, many of her neighbors were the same people she grew up around.

But selling those homes proved hard. Tastes changed. Bigger, new homes were built farther west. There weren't many buyers anymore for half-century-old vinyl-sided ranch houses.

Those who did buy too often paid with mortgages they couldn't afford. Like much of inner North County, Glasgow Village was a hot spot for subprime lending. When the bubble popped, it became a hot spot for foreclosures. There were 105 in the neighborhood in 2008, according to the St. Louis County Planning Department, and 82 more the following year. Prices have plunged. A standard three-bedroom that went for $70,000 or $80,000 a few years ago often costs $20,000 today.

"Market forces just aren't keeping things in balance here," said Jerry Hopping, a landlord who owns several houses in Glasgow and is active in the neighborhood.

Glasgow is a bit of an extreme example. It is fairly isolated, a patch of unincorporated St. Louis County tucked between Riverview, Bellefontaine Neighbors and Interstate 270. And it was hit harder than most places by the mortgage mess.

But its challenges are increasingly common in St. Louis' older suburbs, said Chris Krehmeyer, president of Beyond Housing, a nonprofit that works on community development in St. Louis and North County.

"This is reality for a lot of places in the region," he said.

The question is what comes next.

Glasgow has few jobs and just one functioning business — TJ's Pizza and Fundraising. Its school district, Riverview Gardens, lost state accreditation in 2007. St. Pius, a Catholic church that once had a school and youth programs, closed in 2005. The Glasgow Village Shopping Center sits abandoned, weeds sprouting through the parking lot blacktop.

DWINDLING RESOURCES

It would help, Krehmeyer said, if Glasgow had some resources, some money to invest in neighborhood services and programs for residents. But beyond basic county services such as police, trash pickup and code enforcement, that has been hard to find.

The village trustees collect an annual assessment, but just $14.50 per house per year, said Trudeau-Mitchell. It's enough to keep public areas mowed and the lights on in the little neighborhood office, but little else.

In 2007, the trustees tried to establish a Community Improvement District, boosting property taxes a bit to help fund youth programs, extra security, job training and other needs. They held public meetings to drum up support. Schoolchildren made posters. They went door to door for months, trying to collect notarized signatures from half of the neighborhood's homeowners — the requirement to get on the ballot.

Homeowners were hard to find — many Glasgow Village houses are owned by vaguely named LLCs with a mailing address. Signatures came slowly, and eventually the effort petered out.

Still, the trustees try to build a sense of community in their fast-changing neighborhood. They recently helped organize a massive spring cleaning event and run an active Neighborhood Watch program. They had a Santa Claus giving out candy canes in December, and provided Christmas dinner for the police station.

"It's a lot of older people and young moms. Finding volunteers up here is hard," said Sandy White, who is active in neighborhood groups. "All we can do is keep trying."

Meanwhile, the neighborhood is changing fast. In 10 years, it has gone from 57 percent white to 82 percent black. Unlike most of St. Louis County, its population is growing, and getting younger. The number of people under age 19 climbed by 500 in the last decade, according to the census. One-third of the households are run by single mothers. There's a new generation moving in, drawn by cheap rents on houses built for families, and those green yards and big trees.

When you drive through Glasgow Village on a warm summer afternoon, you see plastic wading pools in the front yards, teenagers taking out the trash, children riding bikes. But it can be a tough place these days, too, said Tammy Alexander. She moved to Glasgow Village from Webster Groves six years ago, looking for more space for her two teenagers and her brother's two younger children, who also live with her. They thought it would be nice, but her oldest boy, in particular, had a hard time.

"My kids never learned to fight until we moved out here. They had to," she said. "It's been a struggle."

NOWHERE TO GO

Alexander is planning to move soon, maybe to South County. Her friend Morticia Scott is thinking of moving, too. She came to Glasgow three years ago from Lemay and opened a business selling candy from her house on Glen Garry Road — though she has had some trouble with permits. She knows many of the neighborhood kids, who call her the "Candy Lady." She says she sees them walking up and down the street a lot, out late at night, with nothing to do.

"There's no jobs. There's no stores," she said. "They don't have anywhere to go."

Some people, such as those at Oasis of Love Fellowship Church, are trying to change that.

The church moved to Glasgow from the Baden neighborhood of north St. Louis about five years ago. It bought St. Pius, then opened a day care to serve the neighborhood's working single mothers. Next came an after-school reading program, sports, dance classes. Now, years after Pius' school closed, dozens of children fill its classrooms during the day, and the parking lot hosts pickup basketball games on many evenings.

"There's a great group of children around here," said Karen Aldridge, who runs the day care and whose father-in-law is Oasis of Love's pastor. "You've just got to give them something to do, show them you care."

Neighborhoods such as Glasgow will need more of those sorts of anchors if they hope to make it, Krehmeyer said. They need places that combine education, social services and child care so mothers can go to work or school. They could use job training, too, and quality housing.

"It's going to take a comprehensive approach," he said. A better economy would help, too.

Still, all this change builds on itself. It becomes hard to turn around. People see their neighbors leave and decide to get out as well.

That's what John Casimere is thinking about. He and his wife and their three children have lived in Glasgow for five years, in a three-bedroom they own across from a little park. They're both from North County, and they like it, but Casimere said they were ready to get out of Glasgow. They'll probably buy something somewhere else, he said, and rent out their three-bedroom. Why?

"The neighborhood has changed into a rental place," he said.

Jeremy Kohler of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.

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