New grants from the Minneapolis Foundation aim to tackle the city's housing crisis by boosting help for renters — from a new tenant support center to a tenant union.

The foundation on Wednesday announced the first grants from its OneMPLS Fund, awarding $100,000 each to five nonprofits. The focus this year is on housing in direct response to last year's Minneapolis homeless camp, one of the largest settlements ever seen in the state.

"It ignited a conversation," said Chanda Smith Baker, who oversees the foundation's grantmaking programs, adding that the grants are aimed at curbing eviction before it happens. "We're trying to be smarter in how we make investments."

More than 50 organizations applied for a grant from the fund, which started last year with an initial $1 million investment. One of the recipients, Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid, a nonprofit law firm, will use the grant to fund a lawyer dedicated to a new tenant support center in north Minneapolis slated to open in January.

The center, which will start as a two-month pop-up, will be a one-stop shop with lawyers, mediators, housing counselors, financial workers and mental health specialists. If it's successful, it will continue.

"There's a growing desire to really reduce the number of evictions in our community," said Mikkel Beckmen, Hennepin County's director of the Office to End Homelessness.

In St. Paul, CommonBond Communities will use its grant for a new clinical director to better support a rising number of residents with mental health issues. Katie Haas, the director of services, said the grant helps with staffing that the nonprofit couldn't afford on its own.

In Minneapolis, the Alliance will use its grant to create a coalition that advocates for people of color in hopes of preventing gentrification. Inquilinxs Unidxs Por Justicia (United Renters for Justice) will use its grant to launch a tenant union to advocate for repairs and prevent displacement. And Hope Community, which has community gardens and 300 units of housing, will start a training program to help renters become owner-occupant landlords.

"This is something that hasn't been tried [before]," said Shannon Smith Jones of Hope Community, adding that the grant is indicative of a shift in philanthropy from focusing on the foreclosure crisis to affordable housing and tenant resources. "People are getting priced out. We want to create options that help people in communities."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141