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Minneapolis aims to build 84 new housing units across the city

1December 2021

The Minneapolis Public Housing Authority plans to demolish more than a dozen houses it owns and replace them with 84 new units in four- and six-plexes across the city.

The roughly $34 million project, which is expected to begin in the summer of 2022, calls for the replacement of aging “scattered site” public housing. MPHA officials said only one of the 16 parcels designated for new housing is vacant.

“Our goal here with this project is to build as much affordable housing as we can in areas where it typically doesn’t exist, but also to continue investing in areas where it is present and it does exist,” said Juan Torres, project lead and the housing authority’s development manager. “This is kind of a direct response to that, to create additional family housing within our scattered sites.”

Because of the high cost that comes with maintaining those properties, the agency last year transferred ownership of its 700 properties to a nonprofit it controls. The agency, which has long suffered a maintenance backlog, said the move will give it access to other funds to renovate and replace these properties.

The city of Minneapolis has earmarked $4.6 million of its federal pandemic relief money to help MPHA with repairs, renovation and the addition of the new units at the scattered sites. The city is also supporting the project by selling land that it owns for two of the sites to MPHA at a low interest rate. Other funders include the Metropolitan Council and the state.

The city’s 2040 plan loosened restrictions on dense housing citywide, but the changes in zoning have not yet been implemented pending an ongoing study. So the housing authority had to seek permission to build multi-unit housing. In mid-November, city staff recommended approval of eight of the proposed sites and the council moved them forward this week. MPHA has declined to share the exact addresses of the scattered sites with the Star Tribune. But addresses shared by city staff during a council meeting showed that the approved sites are in the Seward, East Phillips, Standish, Willard-Hay, Morris Park, Lynnhurst and Windom Park neighborhoods.

The next six sites will go to the city’s planning commission next week for rezoning review and the remaining two will be going forward in January, said senior city planner Andrew Frenz.

The plan, meanwhile, has garnered mixed reaction. Neighbors for More Neighbors, an advocacy group that mobilized to help pass Minneapolis’ 2040 plan, which eliminated single-family zoning citywide, supports the project.

“There’s a strong desire for more public housing in the city because that provides housing for people at the lowest income level,” said Anton Schieffer, the group’s leader.

But Defend Glendale and Public Housing Coalition, a group that has long been critical of the agency’s renovation plans, has called on MPHA leaders to halt the project until there is “legal guarantee” that no residents — a majority of whom are people of color and low-income — would be displaced and that the agency provides proof that the properties will still be classified as public housing.

Agency leaders said the units cap rents at 30% of residents’ annual income and will be owned and operated by MPHA. They said the 13 households displaced by the project have been given the option to return when construction ends in 2023, with the exception of one family, which found a permanent home with the authority’s help. The others will continue to receive housing assistance and the housing authority will cover relocation costs, MPHA officials said.

With nearly 1,000 families on the public housing authority’s waitlist, agency leaders say there is a sense of urgency to add more housing. The 84 units could serve about 420 families over three decades, focusing construction of the new homes in neighborhoods where there’s the greatest need, they said. Meanwhile, 17 units will be set aside for families who are in Hennepin County shelters.

“It’s the responsible thing to do when we have the resources we need and need to make those investments,” said Brian Schaffer, MPHA’s assistant director of planning and development. “Adding 84 [homes] may seem like a small number against the 1,000, but it’s a huge impact for those families.”

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