Gerry Claunch of First & Last Home, LLC has a vision: to bring high quality, low-cost housing to a historically underserved area within the City of St. Louis. With a professional background in software at GDC Integration and decades of personal experience in real estate, Claunch has set his sights on a plot of land in north St. Louis. Located at 2720-2726 Marcus in The Greater Ville neighborhood, this half-acre plot of land may soon be home to the first of several modular homes.
Prefabricated, manufactured, or modular homes became commonplace in the United States in the 1970s, when architects and builders alike realized that they could save on labor costs and construction time by building in a warehouse. Prefab homes accounted for some 10% of all new homes built in the 1980s, and 17% of homes in the 1990s. Their popularity tapered off by the 2000s, and prefab homes accounted for less than 5% of homes built in 2005-2009. Today, the phrase “prefab” is more likely to conjure up an image of a lackluster, inexpensive home than quality new construction.
What Claunch has planned for The Greater Ville is the latter. “I wouldn’t put my name on it if I wasn’t proud of it,” says Claunch. “These are quality homes. Modular does not have to mean cheap.” The proposed builder is Rochester Homes; based in Rochester, IN, they offer dozens of floor plans, styles, and materials to choose from. Each building uses a combination of high-quality building materials (like Hardieplank siding in lieu of vinyl) and
There are seven different models to choose from that fit the site plan on Marcus. All are 3 bed, 2 bath single family homes in the neighborhood of 1,300 square feet (above ground) with full basements and detached garages. Property lots will be about 40 feet wide to accommodate the 28 feet wide homes – wider than most city lots which average closer to 25 feet. Homes will sell for $125,000 – $200,000, the upper limit being dictated by the nicer interior finishes and fixtures that a prospective owner might select. While First & Last Home, LLC is a for-profit company, Claunch expects profit margins to be minimal – the goal being to create housing where there has been a dearth, not to make tons of cash.
New construction, let alone prefabricated homes, is news for The Greater Ville. This 0.96 square mile area has seen minimal development or investment in recent history; in the past five years, there have been nearly as many demolition permits (148) issued as building permits (181). By comparison, Gravois Park (just half the size of The Greater Ville) on the south side has 13 times as many building permits (365) as demolition permits (28) in the same time frame. MLS records show only 22 property sales in The Greater Ville in last year, and over 1,000 properties are LRA-owned.
The Ville and Greater Ville neighborhoods have a storied past. Restrictive covenants in place before the Civil Rights movement prevented African-Americans from owning or renting housing in certain areas of the City. As a result, the African-American population, as well as black-owned and operated businesses, became highly concentrated in certain neighborhoods like The Ville. The neighborhood was home to Sumner High School – the first school west of the Mississippi River to provide secondary education to African-Americans. Annie Malone, one of the country’s first black millionaires and producer of beauty products for African American women, called the neighborhood home.
2720-26 Marcus lies within The Ville Historic District; the district’s boundaries roughly align with Marcus to the west,