Lee Blons stood before the gathered advocates for affordable housing and told the story of a St. Paul teenager who attended high school by day and spent her nights, thanks to the kindness of a bus driver, sleeping on the Route 16 bus. The girl carried everything she owned in a backpack, said Blons, executive director of Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative.
At that time, Blons said, the amount of money Minnesota put toward sheltering homeless teens would have bought each of them just that — a backpack.
“A backpack is not a home,” she said.
On Thursday, state officials said they will spend much more than that on affordable housing this year, announcing awards totaling $162 million to create and preserve apartments and homes across the state. The money is the most ever awarded by Minnesota Housing, the former Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, and will go toward 78 rental and home ownership projects providing nearly 4,000 housing units. In all, projects in 33 cities, including the Twin Cities, Mahnomen, Deer River, Duluth, Winona and Grand Rapids, will receive funds. Those projects will also leverage additional financing, boosting the value of the investment to nearly $500 million, officials said.
One of those projects is set to go up across University Avenue from where Blons told her tale — Beacon will receive $5 million to help build Prior Crossing, a 44-unit development for homeless youth.
“We know how to end homelessness,” Blons said. “The question is: Will we as a state of Minnesota end homelessness?”
Those gathered Thursday, including Gov. Mark Dayton, Minnesota Housing Commissioner Mary Tingerthal, Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, and Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said they’re willing to try.
Dayton noted that for all the money the state will provide this year, 52 other worthy projects that applied for awards will not get funded. “There’s more we need to do,” the governor said.
Still, Hausman, chairwoman of the House Capital Investment Committee, took a moment to bask in what will be done, thanks to work at the Legislature. The most recent bonding bill set aside $100 million for housing, but $20 million of that will be awarded in January 2015 to repair aging public housing.
“The people in this room represent thousands of people around the state, thousands of people who speak with one voice,” she said of the assembled housing advocates.
“It sounded like a lot of money,” she said of her $100 million bonding request. “Until the grant applications started coming in … then it wasn’t enough. What does that tell us? That we’re not finished yet.”
Funded projects include:
• Broadway Flats, Minneapolis, 103 new units, $1.2 million from Minnesota Housing.
• BROWNstone, St. Paul, 35 new units, $1.3 million from Minnesota Housing.
• Villages at Frost English, Maplewood, 50 new units, $7.5 million in tax credit equity.
• Carver Crossing, Carver, 68 new units, $3.1 million from Minnesota Housing and $9.7 million in tax credits.
• Hickory Ridge Townhomes, Maple Grove, 32 rehabbed units, $1.5 million from Minnesota Housing and $5.1 million in tax credits.
• Northgate Apartments, Owatonna, 36 new units, $954,000 from Minnesota Housing and $5.6 million in tax credits.
• Building a Better Neighborhood, Thief River Falls, five new units, $1 million from Minnesota Housing.