The multimillion-dollar foundation started by the family that owns the Minnesota Twins will sharpen its focus on housing stability as record-low vacancy rates, gentrification and rent hikes in the Twin Cities have imperiled the homes of scores of working-class and low-income people.
The Pohlad Family Foundation announced the change this spring when it surveyed organizations’ interest in grants to prevent homelessness. It has about $8 million available in its first round of funding and plans to award grants to about two dozen groups.
“We are always looking to improve or mature as we go along,” said Foundation President Bill Pohlad. “The foundation has been around for awhile now. We’ve been evolving throughout the process.”
“Honestly, as the third generation — our kids — starts getting more involved, the discussion gets more energized about being more direct and identifying a cause where we can have more of an impact.”
The foundation was started in 1994 by Twins owners Carl and Eloise Pohlad. It has given away more than $160 million in the past 20 years to a variety of causes including youth programs, scholarship funds, social service nonprofits, housing nonprofits and the arts.
“There was not a strong focus other than a strong desire to give back to this community,” said Susan Bass Roberts, the foundation’s executive director and vice president. “It’s always been Twin Cities focused, and they’ve always had a desire to help the most vulnerable populations.”
Eloise Pohlad died in 2003, followed by Carl Pohlad in 2009. Their sons, Jim, Bob and Bill, took over the family businesses and foundation.
A few years ago, the three brothers and their wives invited their seven teenage and adult children to take part in the philanthropy. The family members and foundation staff embarked on a year of research, roundtable discussions with community stakeholders and, at times, debate.
“It will be their responsibility in the future,” Bill Pohlad said. “We want them to be engaged and passionate about it.”
The family narrowed it down to four contenders: education, job training, discrimination and housing. And they zeroed in on housing because it can influence all the other areas, Bass Roberts said.
“It came down to helping lift people out of poverty and making their lives tangibly better,” she said.
Within that subject area, the foundation plans to focus on intervening early to prevent homelessness, funding affordable housing, improving the way government, nonprofit and philanthropic systems work together, and creating awareness that galvanizes broader support.
Stability through housing
The Pohlad Family Foundation already had frequently invested in housing nonprofits, including CommonBond Communities, which owns 6,000 affordable apartments and townhouses.
In 2016, the foundation gave CommonBond a low-interest loan to buy Boulder Ridge, a 112-unit apartment complex in Apple Valley that was to be sold and renovated, pricing out many of the existing tenants. CommonBond President and CEO Deidre Schmidt said she’s thrilled the foundation is focusing on the issue.
“Stable housing is how everyone builds every other element in their life,” Schmidt said. “Having stability is at the core of our work.”
The work is more urgent than ever as families spend more of their income to pay mortgages and rising rents.
“It’s really about the family for whom one trip to the emergency room, or one car breakdown, or one extended sick leave from work could endanger their housing. It can start a downward spiral,” Schmidt said.
The new Pohlad Family Foundation focus means some nonprofits and programs, including a scholarship program, that have received funding in the past had to be notified that aid would be ending.
“We tried to do it with dignity and respect and talk to the grantees individually,” Bass Roberts said.
Bill Pohlad said family members will continue to honor his mother Eloise Pohlad’s wish to give as directly as possible to those in need, including through direct assistance.
Last December, the foundation gave $1.4 million to emergency assistance funds run by Hennepin, Ramsey and Dakota counties, which helped 800 families in financial jeopardy keep their homes and apartments over the holidays.
“We are trying to maintain those values,” Bill Pohlad said.