An old shoe factory on the edge of downtown St. Paul is a step closer to becoming affordable housing.

The Renaissance Box building was awarded about $967,000 in federal low-income housing tax credits Wednesday by the St. Paul Housing and Redevelopment Authority board (HRA), which is made up of City Council members.

The money from the credits will help the nearly $16 million project get going. The project includes a renovation to provide 67 housing units.

Each year the federal government doles out the credits to the states. The states in turn divvy them up. St. Paul has a ranking system it uses to decide which projects merit the credits.

There are a lot of rules, but basically the credits are sold on the market to investors. The investors benefit by reducing their income tax liability, and affordable housing developers benefit from the cash. Developments that want to use the credits must follow strict guidelines, including restrictions on rent and tenant income for a specified period.

The city will receive a total of about $969,000 in low-income housing tax credits for 2009. Nearly all of that amount will go to the Renaissance Box.

The remaining $2,000 will be split evenly between The Terraces and East Side Commons, existing affordable housing projects.

The HRA board also approved $731,000 of Invest St. Paul money to be used for projects. The Terraces will receive a $600,000 temporary loan to make crucial building repairs. East Side Commons will get a $75,000 deferred loan to cover operating deficits. Project for Pride in Living will get a $56,000 grant to extend purchase options for a project on W. Seventh Street.

The goal is that the three other projects will be able to get credits in 2010. The process has taken several weeks to be finalized because commissioners liked all the projects and wanted to figure out how to get some money to them for immediate repairs.

HRA commissioners voted 6-1 to approve the allocations.

Commissioner Pat Harris dissented because money set aside for affordable housing in the western part of the city will be used for the loans and the grant goes to the three remaining projects.

"The projects are excellent," Harris said. "I'm told the money will be repaid, but the timeline is not satisfactory."

In other action Wednesday, City Council members unanimously approved an ordinance that allows 24-hour exercise-only gyms to operate in the city without staff on duty.

Chris Havens • 651-298-1542