Affordable housing

Area developer part of 1,700-unit effort

CommonBond Communities, Minnesota's biggest developer-manager of affordable housing, said all five of its proposed low-income housing tax credit projects were fully funded as part of the recent commitment by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (MHFA) to invest $87.5 million in 1,700 new and existing housing units for low-income Minnesotans this year.

The agency funding will be used to build or renovate 1,343 apartments and 374 single-family homes to house people in 55 communities across the state. The beneficiaries range from the working poor to the disabled and homeless. The state agency helps fund a variety of housing initiatives using a range of tools including grants, loans and tax credits.

Affordable housing for the swelling ranks of the working class is a concern for business and government in a market where most new construction has focused on buildings targeted at the professional-to-affluent markets.

Minneapolis is considering an ordinance, opposed by local developers, that would require them to set aside 10 percent or more of new or refurbished units for low-income people. And Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has proposed a record $40 million in next year's budget for housing subsidies.

Affordable housing projects by CommonBond and other nonprofit developers often can involve several types of private and public financing, from private mortgages to local-government grants and tax credits.

Cecile Bedor, CommonBond executive vice president, said tax-credit sales to affluent individuals and institutions who benefit over a 10-year holding period amount to 30 to 50 percent of the five-project financing.

CEO Deidre Schmidt said an equity capital fund recently started by CommonBond to raise "patient capital" from investors willing to accept low or deferred return on their money has raised more than $4 million. Each dollar of that invested equity leverages about $8 in debt and other capital.

The CommonBond Projects are: the Willows, a 60-unit, $15.2 million complex in Shakopee; Trail Point Ridge, a 58-unit, $17.5 million project in Eden Prairie; Dublin Heights, a 45-unit, $10.8 million project in Mankato; Le Sueur Meadows, a 79-unit, $9.3 million project in Le Sueur; Community Plaza in Coon Rapids and Galway Place in St. Paul; a package project that totals 76 units and $8.7 million to acquire and renovate.

A portion of the CommonBond projects funded by (MHFA) will house disabled and previously homeless people.

Neal St. Anthony


A focus on emerging tech at conference

Several hundred investors, analysts, technologists and others interested in the commercialization of artificial intelligence, cybersecurity and blockchain technology attended last week's annual Minnesota Venture Conference of the Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA). More than a dozen fledgling companies presented Wednesday that are engaged in those technologies.

They included: Medpather, founded by several medical and software professionals who aim to cut the cost of medical-facility care with sensor-based and GPS technology to better calculate the trial price of medical services; Big Wheelbarrow, which connects wholesale food buyers with the growing ranks of small farmers who otherwise would be too costly to take on as clients; Virtue Analytics, which uses machine-learning algorithms for universities to boost tuition revenue and curbs dropouts by optimizing admission and scholarship decisions; Silicon Prairie Portal, which helps entrepreneurs raise money from crowdfunding investing; LegacyArmour, which is a secure-asset protection platform to organize critical personal information in encrypted "vaults."

CEO Margaret Anderson Kelliher said 3,000-plus science-and-tech professionals have attended MHTA programs in 2018 that focus on technological adaptation and innovation, shared expertise and public policy to help grow the sector.

Minnesota ranks seventh in the nation for human capital investments, R&D, risk capital and entrepreneurial infrastructure and tech workforce, according the Milken Institute.

Neal St. Anthony


Grant will aid effort to upgrade old engines

Environmental Initiative said it has received a $1.85 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that will help its Project Green Fleet by replacing or retrofitting older diesel engines on heavy equipment, a locomotive, heavy-duty trucks and a tugboat on the Mississippi River.

"This will allow us to help businesses upgrade vehicles many years ahead of when normal fleet attrition would occur," said Bill Droessler, a senior director at Environmental Initiative, spurring "environmental, economic and health benefits for our region."

Since 2005, Green Fleet's public-private partnership has removed the equivalent of more than 750,000 vehicles from Minnesota roads by voluntarily retrofitting more than 4,600 diesel vehicles, including 3,200 school buses. More:

Neal St. Anthony