Minneapolis City Council members gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a plan to convert a former mansion and youth hostel in the Whittier neighborhood into an emergency shelter for women, despite objections from some neighbors.
The city is contributing up to $4 million in federal pandemic relief money to help Hennepin County buy the house at 2400 Stevens Av. S., across the street from the Minneapolis Institute of Art. While the neighborhood association supports the plan, some nearby residents don't want a homeless shelter in a neighborhood that's already home to several congregate housing and other supportive facilities.
"This neighborhood is very saturated," said Paulette Will, a longtime Whittier resident. "These kinds of dwellings, temporary, semipermanent or permanent for any number of cases, should be dispersed equally throughout the city, and they're not. They just aren't."
The city's planning commission in November approved the county's application for a conditional-use permit for the proposed shelter. But resident Charles Block filed an appeal that halted the county from purchasing the historic building until it's considered by the City Council.
Block said he's concerned about overcrowding in the building, the lack of oversight of pandemic relief funds and the potential for the loss of permanent affordable housing at that location.
"There is a concern that the city of Minneapolis is overpaying for this property, [of] which the Hennepin County will be the owner," Block said. "This money could go to permanent housing, good affordable housing."
On Tuesday, a council committee gave its unanimous approval for the conditional-use permit and rejected Block's appeal. The proposal heads to the full council next week.
"[We] rejected the appeal because it didn't have any standing and because the conditional-use permit was in alignment with our city's policy," Council Member Aisha Chughtai said, who represents the area and is a member of the Business, Inspections, Housing and Zoning Committee.
In recent years, Minnesota has experienced record homelessness in part because of the shortage of affordable housing, which has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Officials and advocates say that uptick and the resulting encampments create an urgent need for single-adult shelters, including a small-scale emergency permanent site for women who typically don't feel safe going to shelters that serve men.
County officials said the goal of the proposed 30-bed shelter — which will replace a former hostel that previously accommodated 58 people — is to provide homeless women with safe and stable housing for up to six months.
The county said it has looked at several sites across the city but chose the two-and-a-half-story, 7,400-square-foot structure because they were able to negotiate a lower price for the recently renovated building, which offers several amenities, including access to bus lines and proximity to downtown.
In addition to the city, the Pohlad Family Foundation will contribute $325,000 to support the effort, they said. The Salvation Army will operate the new shelter and provide on-site services, county officials said.
Both the county and the Salvation Army said they have been working with neighborhood groups since September to engage residents and dispel fears.
The Whittier Alliance has expressed strong support for the proposed shelter, touting an October survey of about 70 residents that found nearly 56% backed the site being used for a shelter. Meanwhile, 40% opposed it, while 4% said they were unsure.