Supportive suburban housing is needed. If not now, when? If not here, where?
Having lived and served in Edina for 25 years, I have heard them all. The stereotypes and digs at assumed privilege, including the old saw about what Edina stands for in acronym form: Every Day I Need Attention.
I can certainly critique my own community, but I can also lift up the good news that we do pay attention to important needs in our neighborhoods, community and state. In fact, many of us who live and work in Edina are demanding lots of attention on a big issue affecting people in our whole metropolitan area. We are paying attention to homelessness. Not only are we calling attention to the problem, we in the faith community are poised to do something about it.
That’s why my congregation, Edina Community Lutheran Church, in partnership with the nonprofit Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, along with St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, the Church of St. Patrick, Lutheran Church of the Redeemer and several other congregations in and near Edina, believes we are about to make our dream come true — our dream to build affordable and supportive housing for suburban youth who are experiencing homelessness.
We propose to renovate an existing building across the street from Southdale Center and around the corner from Fairview Hospital (read: hundreds of entry-level jobs) with good access to public transportation, turning it into 39 apartments for youth and young adults who do not have stable housing or family support. We’re calling it 66 West.
Our proposed residential use requires city approval of 66 West in the commercial-medical zone where it’s located. Today, Sept. 2, we hope the Edina City Council will follow the city staff’s and planning commission’s recommendations and approve the project.
We were excited to have more than 200 supporters show up at the Aug. 13 planning commission meeting. We listened as well to a handful of opponents claim that the site in question is not appropriate for various reasons. To be fair, a few have said they support the project but not the location. Others have gone on the record with statements about possible negative effects of this project that frankly seem rooted in classic “NIMBY” fears about people they don’t know individually but assume to be unsuitable prospective neighbors. Such claims are unfounded.
Many people are surprised to learn that homelessness is widespread and especially that some teens and young adults in our suburban communities experience homelessness. They’re here in our classrooms, our public libraries and our shopping malls and at our bus stops.
Youth homelessness in suburban Hennepin County increased more than 27 percent from 2005 to 2011 according to a 2012 report by Heading Home Hennepin, the county office to end homelessness.
Southwest suburban youth service providers and schools estimate that about 250 homeless youth are in our southwest suburban communities each year.
Furthermore, most communities, including Edina, have affordable housing goals. In 2008, Edina set a 10-year goal in its comprehensive plan to create 212 affordable housing units. All 39 units at 66 West would count toward that goal.
Supportive housing is a wise public investment. According to a 2012 Wilder Foundation study, housing like 66 West returns $1.44 to taxpayers for every public dollar invested.
I believe that comprehensive plans and zoning decisions always reflect our values and our hopes for the future. They reflect our commitments to one another and to those around us.
So I ask my fellow Edina residents and our City Council members: If not now, when? If not here, where? Housing delayed is housing denied.
Having raised two sons in Edina, I know the many ways we support children and young adults. Let us now extend that support and attention to those in need of safe and secure housing. Let’s live up to our reputation and demand some attention where attention is deserved. Let’s tackle one of our most pressing yet solvable problems. Let’s invest in housing that will be a safe haven for young adults who are members of our communities. Let’s do the right thing as a community by providing a solid home base for all our kids and young people.
Erik Strand is pastor at Edina Community Lutheran Church.
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