As temperatures drop and winter gets into full swing, many of us are contemplating how we can help the growing number of people experiencing homelessness in our communities.
More places to call home
According to Governor Dayton’s recent report on housing, the single best investment we can make to ensure Minnesota’s economic competitiveness is to increase the amount and quality of stable housing for all Minnesotans. With the rising cost of housing, transportation, health care, education and other basic goods outpacing average incomes, Minnesotans are cost-burdened by their housing, hampering our state’s prosperity and posing one of the biggest issues facing our communities today.
The report maps out six principles of a resilient housing system that Minnesota should reinforce or expand:
- Fair and equitable access to safe, quality, stable housing
- A full range of housing choices
- Effective partnerships between public, private and nonprofit sectors
- Focusing limited public resources on segments of the housing market not well served by the private sector
- Housing stability support such as job training, education and child care
- Flexible solutions to meet the market realities of communities with varying needs
At the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundations, we’ve been partnering with donors, nonprofits, public entities and community members on initiatives to make these principles a reality for decades, from emergency shelters to housing stabilization efforts to affordable rental housing and home ownership.
Homelessness in Ramsey County increased 6.8 percent in 2017, with the total number of unsheltered people up 22 percent. Responding to that need, the Foundations partnered on several initiatives to address homelessness, investing more than $1.2 million since 2016 in efforts such as Redirecting Users of Shelter to Housing, Outside-IN and the Winter Safe Space emergency shelter in Saint Paul.
The Foundations have also supported efforts to increase housing stability such as Prior Crossing, a partnership between Beacon Interfaith and the Amherst W. Wilder Foundation to provide permanent supportive housing for homeless youth. Our affiliate foundations, F. R. Bigelow Foundation and Mardag Foundation, have supported Ain-Dah-Yung Center, which is partnering with Project for Pride in Living to create permanent supportive housing for American Indian youth.
Hundreds of thousands of Minnesota households are among the “working poor” – often not earning enough to maintain housing stability without assistance to reduce the cost burden of rent. The Foundations supported Model Cities’ BROWNstone, a mixed-use, transit-oriented housing development that includes 35 units of affordable housing, with both grant funding and a gap-financing loan.
Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH)
To help preserve existing, Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing (NOAH) for working-class families, the Foundations partnered with F. R. Bigelow Foundation to loan $1 million to CommonBond Communities to support its Housing Opportunity Fund. This is used to purchase existing, unsubsidized affordable rental properties and market them to the nearly 65,000 Minnesota households who don’t qualify for rental assistance, but are being priced out of the market due to rising rents.
The Foundations also partnered with F. R. Bigelow Foundation to loan $1 million to Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity to help them redevelop and rehabilitate existing homes so they will be available to working-class families who are being priced out of home ownership. This will allow Habitat to increase the number of prospective homebuyers they serve from 180 today to 500 by the year 2020.
These loans are part of an expanding effort on our part to take advantage of Program-Related Investments (PRIs) to support rental equity and home ownership in the East Metro. They allow the Foundations to move beyond grantmaking by advancing program goals while leveraging modest financial gains we can reinvest into the community.
They also help increase NOAH preservation efforts. NOAH properties, typically built between 1940 and 1990, are often located near schools, jobs and other amenities. They are increasingly endangered by investors acquiring them to redevelop into upscale accommodations that low- and moderate-income households cannot afford.
These efforts and partnerships on their own won’t create the conditions for a resilient housing system in Minnesota. The Governor’s Task Force report lays out 30 specific recommendations that require substantial focus and investment from all sectors of our community.
We at the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundations believe in the power of our communities. We stand ready to play whatever role is needed to continue this work, and to turn Minnesota into a national model for addressing housing affordability.