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No Place Like Home

Model Cities Creates an Ideal Community for Residents at the BROWNstone

It’s a busy Friday morning on the corner of Victoria and University. The barbershop is opening up for the day. Three women walk into the market next door, and a group of commuters gather at the light rail station.

This vibrant neighborhood was what Model Cities’ staff envisioned when they mapped out BROWNstone, a mixed-use development in Saint Paul’s central corridor.

Since the late 60s, Model Cities has been serving the Summit-University neighborhood, moving from an initial focus on public health to human services and economic development. When new plans for the Green Line were announced, Model Cities saw another opportunity to amplify their impact.

“We knew the light rail would draw and connect more people to the neighborhood,” said Kizzy Downie, executive director for Model Cities. “We realized this was not only an opportunity to get people housing in this area, but more commercial space as well.”

In 2016, Model Cities received a $2.3 million program related investment (PRI) from the City of Saint Paul and funded by the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation to help build BROWNstone. The project includes 35 affordable-housing units, five commercial spaces and office space for Model Cities. Officially opening in Oct. 2017, BROWNstone was fully leased within four months.

A Dream Come True

“It was like a dream come true for me to live here,” said Melkua Guanje, who has lived in BROWNstone since it opened. Before moving in, she struggled to find affordable housing that accommodated her physical disability.

“It's hard for immigrants,” Melkua said. “Usually when people hear my accent, they don’t want to help. They don’t think we’re human.”

Now, Melkua feels like she’s part of the community.

Pamela Ollikan, a fellow BROWNstone resident, feels the same way. For her it's nice to live in an environment where she feels safe.

“The last place I lived didn’t have security doors. There was a whole inch gap around my door, and my apartment was broken into six times in one year, while I was sleeping,” said Pamela.

In addition to safety, Pamela’s new home has also made her more independent and confident, something she has not always felt due to health concerns. Its proximity to public transportation also makes it easier for her to get around.

“One of the biggest benefits to living here is the location,” Pamela said. “I use the train to go to my meetings and doctors’ appointments in downtown Saint Paul. You can hop on the train and you’re there in 10 minutes.”

The BROWNstone development created a central hub for the Frogtown neighborhood and provides much-needed affordable housing for residents, many of whom are immigrants, people of color or low-income families. Proximity to transportation makes it easier for Frogtown residents to get to and from their jobs, schools and other aspects of community life.

“People are proud to be here,” said Max Johnson, a Model Cities employee. “The BROWNstone is a community within a community.”

Melkua Guanje headshot

Melkua Guanje

Pamela Ollikan headshot

Pamela Ollikan

Investing in Community

Interested in learning more about PRIs?

See how the Foundation amplifies impacts through our program related investments, then read how Adrian used a PRI loan to grow his small business.

The Minnesota Community Investment Fund is a pooled PRI that will provide below market rate loans to support community and economic development in Saint Paul and the East Metro area. Contact your philanthropic advisor to learn more about this opportunity.

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