Mpls. church takes on affordable housing project

  • Article by: ROSE FRENCH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 10, 2012 - 11:53 PM

Westminster Presbyterian of Minneapolis plans to build 150 units downtown over five years.

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Westminster Presbyterian Church

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A prominent Minneapolis church announced Tuesday it will expand its commitment to affordable housing in the city by building 150 new units in the downtown area over the next five years.

Leaders of Westminster Presbyterian Church are looking at several different parcels to develop the housing but haven't moved to purchase land yet for the estimated $3 million project, said the Rev. Doug Mitchell, associate pastor at Westminster, who helps oversee affordable housing development at the church.

"It's [affordable housing] absolutely vital for a stable life," Mitchell said. "The call of the Gospel is to serve all people, but particularly those most at the margins ... to serve those with the greatest needs."

Mitchell declined to say what property the church is considering buying to develop the affordable housing.

Westminster is one of the most active metro area churches in affordable housing development, having invested in or partnered with other charitable groups and congregations to establish 550 affordable units during the past 30 years.

The new project marks the first time the church is developing affordable housing on its own rather than as part of a coalition. Westminster plans to work with housing developer Aeon on the project.

So far, the church has raised $1 million, which will go toward development of the first 50 units, and is working on raising the remaining $2 million, Mitchell said.

Westminster has a large footprint at 1200 Marquette Av. S. in downtown Minneapolis and has close to 3,000 members. The church was approached by a neighboring property owner who was prepared to sell the Marimark building, which shares the block with Westminster.

Westminster purchased the Marimark and plans to tear it down and rebuild a structure that may potentially offer affordable housing in the future. In the meantime, the church intends to help current residents at the Marimark find new homes, Mitchell said.

Downtown Council President Mark Stenglein lauded the church's plans to add affordable housing downtown, which he said is key to economic development. The business coalition would like to see downtown's current population of nearly 30,000 double by 2025 -- and affordable housing is key to that growth, he said.

Religious groups have been particularly active in providing affordable housing in downtown and beyond, Stenglein said. He noted the seven-story Higher Ground building downtown, which was dedicated last month; it offers 336 housing units for people experiencing varying degrees of homelessness.

Catholic Charities worked with the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, Hennepin County, the city of Minneapolis, the Community Housing Development Corp. and other businesses and foundations to design, fund and build the facility.

"In order to be a vibrant city, we have to make sure all inhabitants of the city have homes," Stenglein said.

Rose French • 612-673-4352

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