Metro Inn, a 1950s-era motel in the Windom neighborhood of south Minneapolis, rented its last room at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, became a temporary homeless shelter and then underwent a total transformation into apartments.

While workers put in the final touches this week — cleaning and changing light bulbs — the new nonprofit owner, Agate Housing and Services, is trying to expedite rental licensing with the city in order to move tenants in "before the deep cold of winter," said Kyle Hanson, Agate's executive director.

The 38 single-room units of the converted building are restricted to people making 30% of area median income, with monthly rents set at $425 to $550. Residents will have private single rooms but share kitchens. At least half must be people moving straight out of homelessness, but Agate's goal is to house as many people who have recently experienced homelessness as possible.

Nearby Richfield United Methodist Church will donate welcome baskets of household goods to the new tenants.

"For years, people of this church have prayed and wondered how they could safely and confidently serve our neighbors at what is now the former Metro Inn property," said Rev. Nate Melcher. "All neighbors deserve dignity and a kind welcome."

Hotels to Housing

While many counties across the country used federal COVID-19 relief to rent hotel rooms for people experiencing homelessness until the money ran out, Hennepin County purchased struggling motels with the goal of converting them to permanent affordable housing.

Last year the Hennepin County Board allocated $1.1 million to rehab Metro Inn, which was one of six motels the county purchased between 2020 and 2022. Initially used as emergency shelters, they are now in various stages of rehabilitation and conversion to deeply affordable housing.

The motels are:

-Metro Inn (38 units): Sold to Agate last week

-University Inn (45 units): Sold to Property Solutions and Services

-Stevens Square Residence (31 units): Leased to Alliance Housing in 2020

-Federal Plaza, formerly LuMinn Hotel (55 units): Still used as overflow shelter for homeless families, and has undergone preliminary rehab to permanent rental housing

-Robin Hotel (16+ units): Purchase agreement transferred to the Metropolitan Assistance Council for Veterans in 2022 for eventual rental to veterans

-Aqua City Motel (units to be determined): Demolished this summer in preparation for new development of long-term affordable housing

On Nov. 8, Agate purchased Metro Inn from the county for $900,000 through a 30-year, fully forgivable mortgage. The county is also providing an ongoing operating subsidy to keep rents low.

Agate will take referrals from the county's homelessness outreach teams to find tenants. The nonprofit will staff the building and support tenants with personalized case management to help them retain housing and employment.

When Metro Inn reopens for move-in, its industrial commercial laundry room will have been modernized and brightened. A community kitchenette will be available for tenants to use with their guests. One unit is fully ADA accessible. A rain garden has been installed in front of the building.

"It's been a very, very long journey," said Julia Welle Ayres, the county's housing development and finance director. "It's just so lovely to see the neighbors all streaming by with their dogs, just looking at the windows and wondering what's going to happen. It's going to be a beautiful home and not a run-down motel."