A “For Sale” sign is posted outside a residential home in the Queen Anne neighborhood of Seattle, Washington, U.S.
U.S. applications for home mortgages decreased by the most in almost five months driven by sharp declines in refinancing activity and purchase applications.
The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) said on Wednesday its seasonally adjusted market index fell 6.9% in the week ending June 25 from a week earlier, the largest drop since early February. This reflected an 8.2% decrease in applications for refinancing existing loans and a 4.8% drop in applications to purchase a home.
The average contract interest rate for traditional 30-year mortgages increased to 3.20% last week from 3.18% the prior week.
“Purchase applications for conventional loans declined last week to the lowest level since last May,” Mike Fratantoni, MBA’s Senior Vice President and Chief Economist, said in a statement. “The average loan size for total purchase applications increased, indicating that first-time homebuyers, who typically get smaller loans, are likely getting squeezed out of the market due to the lack of entry-level homes for sale.
Numbers are consistent with an uptick in mortgage rates and a downturn in applications.
Mortgage credit availability increased by 1.4% in May – a sign that volume-hungry lenders continued to loosen credit standards in a highly competitive market, according to Thursday data from the Mortgage Bankers Association.
MBA’s Mortgage Credit Availability Index (MCAI) which uses 100 as a benchmark — increased to 129.9 in May. A decline in the MCAI suggests that lending standards are tightening while a higher number suggests loosening credit standards.
Lenders concerned over borrowers’ ability to pay their bills at the beginning of the economic shutdown resulted in an exponential tightening of credit. However, May’s credit availability inched to its highest level since the early days of the pandemic, but remained at 2014 levels.
The MCAI on conventional loans increased 3.5%, while MCAI on government loans increased by 0.3%. Of the two component indices of the conventional MCAI, the jumbo MCAI increased by 5.1%, and the conforming MCAI rose by 1.6%, the MBA said.
“The overall increases were driven by a 3% gain in the conventional segment of the market, with a rise in the supply of ARMs and cash-out refinances,” said Joel Kan, MBA’s associate vice president of economic and industry forecasting.
Borrowers are “stuck in the middle” between the agencies’ minimum FICO requirements and the “FICO gates” imposed by lenders’ credit overlays. We have the tools to help them, we just need to use them.
According to Kan, this is consistent with the uptick in mortgage rates and a slowing refinance market, as well as MBA’s Weekly Applications Survey data showing increased interest in ARMs. Monday data from the MBA revealed mortgage applications dropped for the third consecutive week.
Compared to last year, fewer people are applying for purchase mortgages – a likely result of home prices continuing to rise and prospective buyers avoiding astronomical bidding wars.
However, housing demand is still far outpacing supply, Kan said. The average loan size on a purchase application edged down to $407,000, below the record $418,000 set in February — but still far above 2020’s average of $353,900, the MBA reported.
“The jumbo index also jumped 5% last month, but even with increases over the past two months, the index is still around half of where it was in February 2020,” Kan said. “A rapidly improving economy and job market has freed up jumbo credit, as banks have deposits to utilize. However, there is still plenty of restraint, as many sectors have not fully returned to pre-pandemic capacity, and there are around 2 million borrowers still in forbearance.”
At this time last year, the Jumbo loan index was 54% lower than it had been in February 2020. Securing a jumbo loan was the most difficult it had been in four years, according to MBA data. But a flourishing housing market gave way to jumbos from a host of lenders, including Rocket Mortgage and United Wholesale Mortgage.
As appraisals struggle to reflect these ever-rising costs, home owners and builders continue to look for opportunities to minimize the impact these prices are having on the overall cost of the home. But as they strategize, prices are only getting worse.
“I am trying to build my own home — we are general contractors — and the price of lumber has set us back twice,” Michelle Govro from Missouri explains. “My permits are waiting, but in the one month of waiting for permits, the price of our bids in lumber went up substantially.”
“We even redrew house plans and are trying to build a smaller 1,600-square-foot home, and the lumber price is outrageous,” she added.
Others, such as Angela Cross from New York, have been watching the market to try to build their home at a better time only to be met with continued disappointment.
The Cross family began their home-building journey in April 2020, with an initial quote from a contractor in July 2020 once their land had been surveyed. Lumber prices had begun to ramp up, so a final quote was prepared in September 2020. The price of their turnkey home jumped 20% in just those two months.
“That was over our budget at that time,” she notes, “and after discussing it with our contractor, we decided to wait until February 2021, as he was hopeful lumber prices would come down.”
However, lumber prices have continued to rise instead, and what had been a 20% increase in September had become a 38% increase as of April 2021. Like Govro, the Crosses have tried to find every opportunity to cut costs — including reducing the square footage from 1,656 square feet to 1,500 square feet, and exploring alternative construction methods such as modular — as they continue to rent a two-bedroom house with their two daughters. But the costs are still too high.
Even the existing home market isn’t providing any relief.
“The homes are either sold very quickly, or are out of our price range, or need so much work that it is not worth it to us,” she shares. “Especially since we now own our own piece of land and have dreamed of building our home.”
Problem with rising costs and supply chain challenges are only bound to make these issues worse, as they continue to complicate the home building process.
Mark Reifsnyder, a mortgage banker of 22 years in Michigan, observes: “With construction, there is always the likelihood that costs change during the build due to fluctuations in the supply chain in any given year, as well as the customer making costly changes along the way. We plan ahead for that.”
“But when a builder cannot bottom-line a total cost because the costs run out of control due to an endless list of issues, it leads to a lengthier build,” he adds. “The problems just compound themselves.”
Home buyers in the current market need to earmark an additional 20%, beyond their 20% down payment, just to cover ‘what-ifs’ — and in some cases, “that isn’t even enough,” he notes.
“What confuses things even more is one day there is a news story about supply shortages, but the next day there is a story about stocked lumber yards that simply don’t have the manpower to get materials out the door fast enough,” he adds. “Forrest infestations in Canada, resin factories in Texas still offline due to the ice storm five months ago — the lists go on. This only adds to the confusion and frustration for people.”
New home sales reversed direction in March, fully recovering from the 18.2 percent nosedive those sales took in February. The Census Bureau said sales of newly constructed homes rose 20.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 1.021 million units. This is 66.8 percent higher than the sales 612,000 unit pace in March 2020, although that rate was impacted by the pandemic shutdowns and was the highest annual sales rate since 2005.
February’s loss was also smaller than originally reported. Those sales were revised from 775,000 to 846,000 units.
Analysts’ estimates fell far short of the numbers reported. Those polled by Econoday had projected sales in a range of 820,000 to 950,000. The consensus was 887,000.
On a non-adjusted basis there were 97,000 new homes sold during the month, up from 70,000 the previous month. For the year to date sales have totaled 243,000 homes, a 34.4 percent increase over the 181,000 sales in the first three months of 2020.
The median price of a home sold in March was $330,800 and the average price was $397,800. In March 2020, the respective sales prices were $328,200 and $375,400.
At the end of the reporting period there were an estimated 307,000 new homes available for sale, identical to the inventory in February. However, due to the higher rate of sales this was estimated at a 3.6 month supply, down from 4.4 months in February. In March 2020, the supply was over 6 months.
Sales increased by double digits month over month in three of the four major regions but fell by double digits in the West where they were also down on an annual basis. The increase in the Northeast was 20 percent compared to February and 108.7 percent higher than the prior March. Sales in the Midwest rose 30.7 percent and 78.4 percent for the two periods.
The South posted a 40.2 percent gain for the month and 90.1 percent year-over-year. Sales in the West, which also posted poor March numbers for existing home sales, were down 30.0 percent from the prior month and dipped 2.0 percent from the year earlier level.
“It’s a tale of two economies. The services economy remains in the doldrums, but the production side of the economy remains strong,” said Sam Khater, Freddie Mac’s Chief Economist. “New COVID-19 cases are receding, which is encouraging and that has led to a rise in Treasury rates. But, the run-up in Treasury rates has not impacted mortgage rates yet, which have held firm.”
Khater continued, “The residential real estate market remains solid given healthy purchase demand while implied real-time home price growth is high, due to the inventory shortage that is plaguing the housing market.”
30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 2.73 percent with an average 0.7 point for the week ending February 11, 2021, unchanged from last week. A year ago at this time, the 30-year FRM averaged 3.47 percent.
15-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 2.19 percent with an average 0.6 point, down from last week when it averaged 2.21 percent. A year ago at this time, the 15-year FRM averaged 2.97 percent.
Ending a string of three successive months of record highs, builder confidence in the market for newly built single-family homes fell four points to 86 in December, according to the latest NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI). Despite the decline, December is still the second-highest reading in the history of the series after last month’s 90.
Housing demand is strong entering 2021, however the coming year will see housing affordability challenges as inventory remains low and construction costs are rising.
The issues that have limited housing supply in recent years, including land and material availability and a persistent skilled labor shortage, will continue to place upward pressure on construction costs. As the economy improves with the deployment of a COVID-19 vaccine, interest rates will increase in 2021, further challenging housing affordability in the face of strong demand for single-family homes.
Derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for 35 years, the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.” Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.
The HMI index gauging current sales conditions dropped four points to 92, the component measuring sales expectations in the next six months fell four points to 85 and the gauge charting traffic of prospective buyers also decreased four points to 73.
Looking at the three-month moving averages for regional HMI scores, the Northeast fell one point to 82, the Midwest was up one point to 81, the South rose one point to 87 and the West increased two points to 96.
Homeowners looking to add a deck, renovate their kitchen or build a new home likely noticed how expensive the price of building is. The reason: In late summer, lumber prices were the highest they have ever been. And even though those prices have started to fall, it’s unclear when construction costs will follow suit.
In September, the price of lumber reached a record of almost $1,000 per thousand board feet, a quantity equivalent to about 190 eight-foot two-by-fours, according to Random Lengths, a trade publication for the wood products industry. That was nearly triple the price from last year, when the same amount of wood sold for about $360. Lumber was selling at around $550 per thousand board feet as of Nov. 10, according to Business Insider data. Those fluctuations have left lumber yards and homebuilders navigating whether to increase prices or absorb losses. Meanwhile, many new construction home buyers are still paying elevated costs.
Boone County Lumber in Columbia, which sells materials primarily to home builders and commercial contractors, has paid more for wood and had to increase its prices in response. Lumber for a job the yard provided materials for in September cost $18,000 more than the products would have for the same job in March, according to owner Brad Eiffert.
Eiffert said he typically sees lumber prices move by $5 or $10 per thousand board feet over one week. Over the summer, weekly prices jumped by $70 to $100 per thousand board feet. They then dropped back down by the same amount in October.
“No one, living or dead, has seen what happened,” said Eiffert, whose father owned his lumber yard before him.
Costs for lumber yards have begun to fall as mills catch up to the demand. Seasonality has also affected demand some, as colder weather deters the number of projects contractors can handle and typically causes yards to lower their inventories, Eiffert said. However, several Missouri home builders say they have had to raise their prices as recently as October in reaction to skyrocketing lumber costs.
A ‘decade-long train wreck’
What caused the surge of lumber prices during the spring and summer? Many factors over the years are to blame.
“This is a decade-long train wreck that came to meet us in the summer of 2020,” Eiffert said.
First, years of pine beetle destruction of forests caused many lumber producers to quickly cut down and sell a large supply of trees in order to salvage as much product as possible. By June 2019, this supply of trees was already dwindling, according to a Random Lengths report from that month.
This lowered the amount of trees needing to be processed, which caused several mills to close last year as demand waned. Log prices rose.
Additionally, in 2017, the Trump administration imposed tariffs of about 20% on lumber shipments from Canada, a major source of the wood used to build American homes.
Now, COVID-19 has caused even more mills to close, especially at the beginning of the pandemic when buyers’ demand slowed as they assessed how to proceed in a virus-struck world, according to a Random Lengths report. The last thing on mills operators’ minds was production, Eiffert said, because they doubted people would want to build when they were worried about a pandemic.
Additional hits to the timber industry include Hurricane Laura, which caused damage and power outages in mills in the South when it hit at the end of August and the raging wildfires in the West that have devastated many forests, according to an Aug. 28 Random Lengths report. The fires especially have caused mill shutdowns.
All of these elements have created a small supply of lumber that can hardly keep up with customers’ demand, which grew through the spring and summer. The result was lumber prices reaching record highs.
As it turns out, a pandemic is the perfect time to build. There has been a large demand for home construction and improvements both in Missouri and nationwide since people have spent more time at home.
“Instead of vacation, (people) built decks or they resided their homes,” Eiffert said.
Columbia-based New Beginnings Construction, which remodels and builds homes, has been booked with jobs, especially decks, kitchens and bathrooms, owner Nathan Goen said.
“The demand for work in Columbia is so great that every single construction company I know is booked out months in advance,” he said.
In fact, New Beginnings has been looking to hire more carpenters to keep up with all the work. Goen has had trouble finding people interested in the role, but he said he would hire if he found qualified candidates.
With all of the demand, the existing lumber supply hasn’t been able to keep up, Eiffert said. He has had new customers come to his yard because bigger retailers were out of what they were looking for.
“For the first time that I can remember, there were just actual shortages of product,” Eiffert said. “They just weren’t there to satisfy customer needs.”
Eiffert said the current demand for housing isn’t that high relative to the longer-term trend. It’s the abnormally low activity from the last few years that “makes it feel so strange,” he said.
Homes have been under-built for years, according to an August report by First Trust Advisors. Builders have started about 1 million units per year in the U.S. since 2010, but 1.5 million starts per year would be more on target for U.S. market needs.
“Home builders still need to make up for lost time, until the long-term average is closer to 1.5 million per year, which could mean reaching, and then averaging, a pace of something like 1.8 million starts for the next several years,” according to the First Trust report.
U.S. housing starts approached that pace of 1.5 million in September, reaching an annualized rate of 1.42 million, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The rate is not above historical averages but, rather, approaches levels seen before the 2008 financial crisis, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
The interest for building new homes now is due, in part, to the increased price of real estate, said Brian Toohey, chief executive officer of the Columbia Board of REALTORS. The inventory of homes available is lower than usual — in September, it was down 50% from last year — causing the price of an existing home to be comparable to that of a new build.
Navigating price changes
Goen has had to raise New Beginnings’ construction prices to account for the increased lumber costs. Despite those costs, he tries to keep prices low to remain competitive.
“We could have made a little bit more money, so we’ve lost a little in that respect,” Goen said.
But there comes a point when absorbing higher costs begins to hurt the home building business. Consort Homes in St. Louis has had to raise its construction prices incrementally over the last few months in order to remain profitable, said Bill Wannstedt, the builder’s vice president and division manager. Each month, the company has raised prices by 1% to 1.5%, he said.
Consort didn’t initially raise prices because it wasn’t sure how long lumber price increases were going to last. Like many other builders, Consort keeps prices the same for 90 days, so it will not increase prices again the rest of the year. This helps keep consistency with projects.
Higher prices have affected homeowners with smaller budgets more, Wannstedt said. This has caused the number of people who walk into Consort Homes to fall drastically. Wannstedt said he saw his customers per week fall to eight from 27 in September after the company raised prices recently.
The next few months
Goen has encountered customers who want to wait until January to start additions in hopes prices will come down. However, it’s unclear whether they will. Wannstedt said that while lumber prices may fall, prices of materials such as appliances and cabinets, as well as the cost of carpenter compensation, could increase at the start of the new year. So it’s possible construction prices could hold steady.
Dean Klempke, a real estate agent at Iron Gate Real Estate in Columbia, recommends that people interested in buying new construction homes should do so now because prices may rise another $5,000 to $10,000 next year.
Buyers may also pay lower prices by purchasing inventory homes, Wannstedt said. These are houses that started earlier this summer and are sold now reflecting the prices builders paid for lumber and other materials then. Buyers of those homes may have to sacrifice choosing amenities such as countertop material or flooring, but they also can save a few thousand dollars.
Eiffert expects prices of lumber to continue to fall and stay at moderate levels for the rest of the year. Although prices have been falling at historic rates after hitting record highs, he doubts they will reach record lows.
“If things get fairly inexpensive after what we’ve lived through this summer, I think people are going to be willing to step in fairly aggressively and have more inventory on the shelf just as a protective measure,” Eiffert said.
Many renters are struggling financially due to the coronavirus pandemic. And though a new eviction moratorium prevents you from being removed from your home, it doesn’t cover rent payments or help lighten the load financially.
If you’re having a hard time paying your rent during the COVID-19 pandemic, here’s what you need to know.
Know Your Rights as a Renter
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued a federal eviction moratorium in early September 2020. Under the new rule, qualified renters can’t be evicted through Dec. 31, 2020.
To be eligible, you have to self-certify—under penalty of perjury—that you:
Are unable to pay rent due to substantial income loss, loss of hours, a layoff, or high medical bills
Have made all efforts to obtain government rent assistance
Expect to earn $99,000 or less for the year ($198,000 is you file your tax returns jointly), were not required to report any income in 2019 to the IRS, or received a stimulus check per the CARES Act
Are attempting to make at least partial payments on your rent when possible
Would likely become homeless if evicted or would need to live in very close quarters with someone
This all must be certified on the official declaration form from the CDC. You must then submit it to your landlord in order to qualify.1
Unlike the moratorium enacted by the CARES Act earlier this year, this one extends to all renters—not just those on federally financed or subsidized properties.
Understand Your Local Rights, Too
Many states and municipalities have also put their own eviction moratoriums in place. In some areas, these moratoriums have already expired, and evictions have resumed for non-paying renters.https://da3ebb9f344d2a4fa693b236fea189a0.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
You should also work to understand your rights as a tenant and read your lease thoroughly. Note any grace periods you may be due and what your landlord’s options for recourse are. Your city should also have tenant protections in place, so study up on renter’s rights in your area. Your local housing agency is a good place to start.
Talk to Your Landlord
In order to qualify for the eviction moratorium, you must certify that you’re making your best efforts to pay rent and meet the obligations of your lease agreement. If you’re currently unable to pay your rent, your first step is to talk to your landlord. They might be willing to work with you on payment options.
“Contact your landlord and discuss a deferred payment plan,” Howard Dvorkin, a certified public accountant (CPA) and chairman of Debt.com, told The Balance via email. “This is definitely worth a shot, as most landlords do not want to pay the fee to file a lawsuit, go to court, and find a new tenant.”
Consider talking to your landlord about these other options:
Deferred payments: You pay your overdue rent by a later, agreed-upon date.
Partial or flexible payments:You are permitted to make smaller, incremental payments across the month.
Security deposit payments:Your landlord uses your security deposit toward the overdue rent.
Depending on where you live, you may also be able to pay your rent by credit card. Though this can ensure you’re not delinquent on your rent, it also results in additional credit card debt and potentially more interest paid over time. Make sure you’re prepared to pay off your credit card as soon as possible to avoid further financial distress.
Find Local Assistance
If working directly with your landlord is unsuccessful, you can look to federal, state, and local resources to help cover your rent. Again, this is a recourse you must explore before qualifying for the September 2020 eviction moratorium.1
If your financial hardship is due to the coronavirus pandemic, there are some resources you can tap for help. First, there are several HUD Rental Assistance programs, which received several billion dollars as part of the CARES Act.2
There’s also Fannie Mae’s Disaster Recovery program, which offers housing counseling and can connect you with additional federal and state resources that can help. Fannie Mae’s recovery experts can also help you better communicate with your landlord.
If your landlord does move to evict you, Dvorkin suggested seeking legal counsel immediately.
“You don’t have to have a lawyer in court for an eviction,” he said. “But many cities offer free legal counsel and other landlord and tenant resources to help you understand rights and how to proceed.”
If you’re struggling to pay your rent due to the coronavirus pandemic or any financial hardship, it does not necessarily mean you’ll be evicted. Talk to your landlord, identify any local resources or assistance programs you may be eligible for, and fill out the CDC’s declaration form to ensure you’re not evicted. There are many options to help you keep your home and avoid further distress.ARTICLE TABLE OF CONTENTSSkip to section
Builder confidence in the newly built, single family home market jumped six points to 78 in August on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index.
Anything above 50 is considered positive sentiment.
The cost of lumber is soaring not only because of increased demand but because mills shut down in April and May and did not expect to see the kind of strong demand they’re seeing now.
Potential buyers continue to flood into model homes across the nation, and that has builders feeling better about their business than they have in over 20 years. But rising lumber prices could sap the market’s momentum this fall.
Builder confidence in the newly built, single-family home market jumped six points to 78 in August on the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index. Anything above 50 is considered positive sentiment.
The index is now at the highest level in the 35-year history of the monthly series and matches the record set in December 1998. Builder sentiment plunged to 30 in April, when the coronavirus pandemic shut down the U.S. economy, but it recovered quickly as consumers suddenly sought more space in less urban areas.
“The demand for new single family homes continues to be strong, as low interest rates and a focus on the importance of housing has stoked buyer traffic to all-time highs as measured on the HMI,” said NAHB Chairman Chuck Fowke. “However, the V-shaped recovery for housing has produced a staggering increase for lumber prices, which have more than doubled since mid-April. Such cost increases could dampen momentum in the housing market this fall, despite historically low interest rates.”
The cost of lumber is soaring not only because of increased demand but because mills shut down in April and May and did not expect to see the kind of strong demand they’re seeing now. There have also been issues with transportation and labor.
Of the index’s three components, current sales conditions rose six points to 84. Sales expectations in the next six months increased three points to 78, and buyer traffic jumped eight points to 65, its highest level in the history of the survey.
Builders are clearly benefiting from the severe shortage of existing homes for sale. There were too few homes to meet demand even before the pandemic struck, and now fewer homeowners are willing to list their homes for sale.
Mortgage rates dropped to a record low to start August but pushed higher last week, as Treasury yields rose and mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac increased fees to lenders. Unless rates really break much higher, which is unlikely, the latest increase is unlikely to throw much cold water on the very strong demand for housing.
“Housing has clearly been a bright spot during the pandemic and the sharp rebound in builder confidence over the summer has led NAHB to upgrade its forecast for single-family starts, which are now projected to show only a slight decline for 2020,” said NAHB chief economist Robert Dietz. “Single-family construction is benefiting from low interest rates and a noticeable suburban shift in housing demand to suburbs, exurbs and rural markets as renters and buyers seek out more affordable, lower density markets.”
Regionally, on a three-month moving, builder sentiment in the Northeast jumped 20 points to 65, in the Midwest it rose 13 points to 63. In the South sentiment increased 12 points to 71 and in the West it rose 15 points to 78.
If you were in St. Louis and wanted — hypothetically — to eat the rich, 1 Portland Place would be a good place to start.
The limestone-and-marble palazzo found at that address looms high above the hedge-fringed retaining walls lining Kingshighway, a major north-south thoroughfare where cars stream by at all hours of the day. But between the busy road and this street punctuated with opulent homes is an imposing stone entranceway with wrought-iron gates — one of many such structures St. Louis has built throughout its history to divide its communities.
Designed in 1909, the 18,000-square-foot mansion was a wedding present for Anna Busch, the daughter of beer magnate Adolphus Busch, whose name adorns the city’s ballpark. The mansion was purchased in 1988 by its current residents, Mark and Patricia McCloskey, personal-injury attorneys whose office is located in another mansion they own a 15-minute walk away. In a splashy St. Louis Magazine feature, the McCloskeys detail their “difficult” two-decade journey to restore 1 Portland Place’s marble staircases and damask silk walls — some of which required traveling to Italy to see the original Renaissance-era palaces that the home was modeled after.
The surrounding Central West End neighborhood is known for its lavish houses, well-groomed residents, and manicured landscaping. But on Sunday evening, the occupants of 1 Portland Place were pacing their front lawn in bare feet and mustard-stained shirts, brandishing firearms which they pointed at hundreds of Black Lives Matter protesters streaming down the sidewalk.
The protesters weren’t there to see the McCloskeys, they were just cutting through Portland Place on the way to the home of St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson who, on Friday, publicly read a list of names and addresses of constituents wanting to defund the police department. (Krewson owns a Central West End brownstone just a few blocks away.) But taking this street became a symbolic moment in itself as the protesters toppled the century-old roadblocks intended to keep St. Louis’ white ruling class separated from the rest of the city.
Although videos show protesters walking through an open gate which appears undamaged, Mark McCloskey told KMOV that protesters “smashed through the historic wrought iron gates of Portland Place, destroying them, rushed toward my home where my family was having dinner outside and put us in fear of our lives.”
“Private property, get out!” Mark McCloskey yelled at the protesters in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch video, emerging from between two-story white pillars and cradling an AR-15 assault rifle, as the crowd began a call-and-response: “Whose streets? Our streets!”
“It’s a public street, asshole.”
“We’re on the sidewalk!”
“This is all private property,” said Mark McCloskey to KMOV. “There are no public sidewalks or public streets. We were told that we would be killed, our home burned and our dog killed. We were all alone facing an angry mob.”
A revitalized movement to limit access to St. Louis streets emerged during the 1970s and 1980s, when the population of the city dwindled to half of what it had been in 1950, largely because white families moved to the surrounding suburbs. By the time Mayor Vincent Schoemehl left office in the mid-1980s, 285 streets had been blocked or diverted, most by decidedly less ornamental concrete bollards known as “Schoemehl pots.” One program, entitled “Operation Safestreet,” was praised at the time for lowering crime rates, though the long-term benefits have been less clear. In recent years, advocates have been trying to undo the closures in an attempt to knit the city back together, but some residents want to keep their cul-de-sac streets, especially the ones concentrated in high-wealth, predominately white areas like the Central West End.
There’s yet another another street-level delineation that keeps the Central West End exclusive: Delmar Boulevard, the east-west artery just a few blocks to the north, creates a barrier known as the Delmar Divide that slices through the city. Historically, neighborhoods north of Delmar were redlined because they were home to predominantly Black communities, while white families to the south received federal loans to buy or improve properties — funneling government capital directly to the renovation of those mansions.