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In 2023, the state of Minnesota took a historic step to address the housing crisis by appropriating a record $1 billion for affordable housing. It came with a challenge to public, private and nonprofit institutions to find bold new solutions to quickly deliver high-quality affordable housing for working class Minnesotans.

This call by the state is being answered by a project like no other — The Heights.

"The Heights will be the largest modern-day investment in the East Side community — and the state should play a big role in it," said State Rep. Liz Lee, DFL-St. Paul, whose legislative district 67A includes The Heights. "This development presents an amazing opportunity to create affordable housing, living-wage jobs and a new live-work-play neighborhood on the East Side."

The greater East Side is rich with working-class history and it's the most racially diverse area of St. Paul. Yet the East Side community needs more investment, resources and opportunities.

The Heights is a transformational redevelopment of the 112-acre former site of the Hillcrest Golf Course at Larpenteur Avenue and McKnight Road in the northeast corner of St. Paul. When fully realized, The Heights will deliver more than 1,000 affordable housing units, 25 acres of parks and greenspace, neighborhood gathering spaces, public art, bike and walking trails, and 1,000 living-wage light industrial jobs.

The need for more affordable housing is immense. According to the Minnesota Housing Partnership's most recent State of the State's Housing Profile, "None of the top five in-demand jobs pay enough for workers to own a home, and four of the five jobs' wages aren't enough for quality rental housing." We're talking about the people who make our cities run every day — registered nurses, retail salespeople, cashiers and food industry workers, and home health aides. Of these critical workers, only nurses earn enough to afford an average two-bedroom apartment. And even they can't afford a median-priced house in this rising real estate market.

Our state's housing challenges disproportionately impact Minnesotans of color. Our homeownership disparity continues to be among the widest in the nation, and renters of color are more likely than white renters to pay more than they can afford for housing.

The Heights is a model for how to leverage public-private-nonprofit partnerships to respond to these challenges and enrich our communities for future generations. Partners are coming together to offer a wide range of housing options and pricing across a wide spectrum of needs, targeting essential workers, households of color, and others with low and moderate incomes.

In all, Sherman Associates and JO Companies will deliver nearly 900 rental units that will be a combination of affordable, deeply affordable, workforce market-rate and senior housing. Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity will create an additional 147 units of affordable homes for people to own, unlocking a pathway to homeownership and wealth-building for those who are locked out of today's homebuying market.

The Heights is a transformational project that not only will address housing affordability and racial equity needs but also have a unique emphasis on environmental sustainability. It is designed to be an all-electric community seeking LEED Platinum Certification and was recently awarded funding from the state's new "green bank" for a geothermal energy system.

The vision for The Heights is clear: a new low-carbon community with a mix of housing opportunities, jobs, greenspace and amenities. A neighborhood diverse in race, age and income where people can live, work, learn and thrive. A development that contributes to the vibrancy, vitality and opportunity of the greater East Side for generations to come.

It's a bold, landscape-changing vision that will take Minnesota to new heights in our capital city — and we urge the state to join project partners, Ramsey County and the city of St. Paul to invest in making this vision a reality.

Chris Coleman is president and CEO of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity. Johnny Opara is president and CEO of JO Companies. Chris Sherman is president of Sherman Associates.