ST. LOUIS — Astrine Ransom isn’t offended when businesses won’t service her home.
It doesn’t happen to her often, she said, and when it does, it’s almost always with food delivery.
“I thought it was normal and common because this is America,” Ransom, who lives in the West End neighborhood, said. “It’s a matter of choice, at the end of the day.”
She said her home warranty company at times struggles to contract for services for her home because companies don’t service the north St. Louis area where she lives.
The denials of service aren’t limited to North Side neighborhoods.
The Dutchtown Community Improvement District (CID) tried to contract with security firm The City’s Finest to use off-duty police officers for extra neighborhood patrols. Over a period of two months, the group met with the company, said Nate Lindsey, a volunteer with the Dutchtown CID.
“Now, all of a sudden, they told us because of characteristics of the neighborhood, they were not going to be able to help us out,” Lindsey said. They found another private company, Campbell Security, that would do the work.
Charles Betts, a retired St. Louis police officer who owns The City’s Finest, said his company decided not to do the work because the CID’s budget wasn’t sufficient for what Dutchtown CID wanted.
“There was not enough money in the CID to support the consistent patrols I thought would be effective,” Betts said. “I did not feel comfortable taking their money.”
Caya Aufiero, secretary of the Dutchtown CID, said they were told they needed to raise more money to support the extent of patrols they wanted. Through a fundraiser, the CID raised the money and spent it to hire Campbell’s Security.
Aufiero said she didn’t go back to The City’s Finest because she felt they strung the CID along.
“After several months of discussions, the message that came across to us is ‘We’ve got better opportunities elsewhere,’” Aufiero said.
‘The power of conversations’
Ransom usually finds friends and people through church to help her around the house. She had a positive experience with Soulard Garage Door and Fence, a company that recently made headlines for at first refusing to build a fence at Travis and Gina Sheridan’s home.
The new home in Old North St. Louis also made headlines as the first shipping-container home in the city. Travis Sheridan was not pleased about the refusal from Soulard Garage Door and Fence, and posted several tweets about it on social media. He was interviewed on-air by KMOV the next day.
After Travis Sheridan and the company’s owner, Stephan Segura, had a face-to-face conversation, Segura provided the Sheridans with a quote. Travis left the conversation feeling better about the company and what had happened.
“This is a great example of the power of conversations,” he told a Post-Dispatch reporter. The reporter then asked if Sheridan felt Segura is genuinely concerned about the problem of lack of services in north St. Louis.
“100 percent,” Sheridan said.
Segura was upset because he felt his decision was portrayed as a racist one. He is Hispanic, and said he wants to help blighted areas in the city. For years, he said, his company has served customers north of Delmar Boulevard.
“I can tell you (the denial of service) happens a lot,” Segura said. “People in north city say, ‘you’re the only ones that would come.’”
It was a matter of bad timing, he said. At the end of March, Segura bought a new company, Entry Point of St. Louis, and took on new employees who were based in St. Peters. They were unfamiliar with working in St. Louis, he said, and the new company also came with new, more expensive equipment. In recent months, Segura and other company employees had tools stolen while they were on the job on the North Side.
When Sheridan first called Soulard Garage Door and Fence for a quote, the person who answered the phone told him they couldn’t service the area because of too many insurance claims, Sheridan said.
“Generally, no, it’s definitely not a stipulation by an insurer that you can’t go into specific area,” said Julia Ruiz, spokeswoman for the Insurance Information Institute, an insurance industry association based in New York. “But you might have a hard time getting insurance if you have a high loss rate.”
High loss rates are based on historical events. Insurance companies do not predict high loss rates based on perceptions of crime or any other factors except events that have actually happened, Ruiz said.
Acclimating to the city
Because of the additional workman’s compensation he took on, Segura wanted to postpone work in some areas. Segura said he put a halt on working on the North Side for about a month.
“We just got them moved to Soulard this week,” Segura said of the new employees from St. Peters, adding that he realizes “Soulard’s not the safest place in the world, either.”
“So I’m acclimating these guys to the city and trying to make sure everyone feels safe at work and they’re not scared. I want them to feel comfortable. The more time you spend up there, the more you realize it’s not what it’s all cut out to be,” he said.
By that, Segura means the crime on the North Side isn’t much worse than other places in St. Louis.
According to the latest crime statistics from the Post-Dispatch Crime Tracker, there was less violent crime reported between October and March in most North Side neighborhoods compared to the same time period a year earlier. Property crime did increase in some of them.
Property crime also increased in Soulard, Benton Park and McKinley Heights year over year. Violent crime in those areas is down, except in McKinley Heights.
Per capita crime rates on the North Side are higher than in other parts of the city, but neighborhoods on the North Side have lower populations, which can skew per capita rates upward.
Denial of service in certain areas isn’t new, said Glenn Burleigh, spokesman for Metropolitan St. Louis Equal Housing and Opportunity Council. The organization works on fair housing issues, but Burleigh has heard through the grapevine about denials of service on the North Side.
He experienced the issue himself when he ordered a pizza. He lived in the lively area around the Delmar Loop, and said his apartment building was located on the north side of the street.
“Papa John’s wouldn’t deliver to me,” he said. “I even tried to get them to meet me at the Church’s Chicken across the street.”
Even if a homeowner has the money to hire a top-notch contractor to make sure the job is done well, Burleigh noted, they may end up going with a less preferable contractor because the better option refuses to work on the North Side.
Gail Brown, real estate agent, owner of Brown-Kortkamp Realty and at-large member of the Affordable Housing Commission, is running into this issue now as she and the Fountain Park-Lewis Place Housing Steering Committee are trying to put together a list of approved contractors for the area.
“I don’t believe and don’t want to believe that it’s an issue of insurance and risk,” Brown said. “I think it’s more of perception of what north St. Louis is, and I think what we understand it to be is what we see on the 5, 6 and 10 (p.m.) news.”
Brown is concerned, too, that this dynamic will make it even more difficult for North Side residents, especially those in the low-income bracket, to get services from contractors who do agree to work there.
“So you have a situation where contractors now, because there’s not competition, there’s potential for them to charge more for their services because it’s not a competitive bidding situation,” she said.
Sheridan doesn’t like the idea of shutting down competitive bidding, either.
“I told (Segura) that I’d give him a fair opportunity to bid on the project,” he said.