A new home a block from Wirth Park sold for $300,000. Two century-old houses in the Old Highland area sold for $248,000 and $260,000. The city-subsidized Green Homes that have sold for as high as $220,000.
They add up to some encouraging signs for the housing market in north Minneapolis, or at least the portions of it along parkways or with richly detailed old homes.
This resurgent housing market is prompting the city to begin testing the market by restarting some long-stalled housing redevelopment projects. They include the partly built Heritage Park, where four public housing projects were razed 15 years ago, and Humboldt Greenway farther north, a Hennepin County-inspired project that stalled when the recession hit.
Policymakers are hoping that growing demand can support new market-rate single-family housing. City development officials are also seeking proposals for mixed-income rental housing along Broadway Avenue, with an emphasis on market-rate rents.
There are other signs the housing market is improving. In 2014, the two North Side political wards registered their lowest foreclosure tally since before the recession. Foreclosures peaked at nearly 1,300 there in 2007, but they’ve been dropping since, ahead of the state as a whole.
The area’s political leaders say the market for homes outside of more attractive niches like Old Highland remains challenging. Some price levels are buoyed mainly by investors bent on adding single-family rentals or rehabbing homes for a profit, said City Council President Barb Johnson. Farther south, Council Member Blong Yang said more typical North Side homes are selling for at least $120,000, up about $20,000 from a year or two ago.
When Jill and Aaron Asfoor bought in Old Highland, a neighborhood of about 40 blocks of Victorian-era homes between Broadway and Plymouth avenues, her county commissioner arrived with pumpkin bread. It helped that Commissioner Linda Higgins also is an alley neighbor who moved into the area years ago.
The enclave is one where residents have their own online message board and often share a passion for restoring homes. There have been wine and cheese gatherings, dessert parties — seven different neighborhood gatherings since the Asfoors bought their five-bedroom, four-bathroom house just before Thanksgiving.
“The biggest thing is just how welcoming everyone is,” Jill Asfoor said. “Even if I lived in a small town, I don’t think I would have met so many people.”
Although she’s taught for three years at a Minneapolis public school just blocks away, Asfoor admits it took her time to get comfortable with living on the North Side, where crime rates are generally higher. But the house kept popping up in her searches. She interviewed teachers who had grown up in the area and loved its neighborliness. She knocked on doors in the vicinity and was impressed by the time people spent with her.
Plus, the house mixed stained glass, vintage woodwork and character with a thorough renovation, including a roomy kitchen and a deck with a hot tub. That was just the feel she and Aaron, a pilot, were seeking. The price: $248,000.
A home with the same features in south Minneapolis would fetch at least $100,000 more, said Stephanie Gruver, the Realtor who listed the house. She said one reason values haven’t increased more outside areas such as Old Highland is that often the owners of the best homes want to stay put. “The biggest houses on my street are not on the market,” said Gruver, who lives just off the parkway farther north in the Camden area.
City officials are seeking a broader rebound in property values in the North Side, both to bolster the tax base and to complete two significant redevelopments stalled by the recession. The Humboldt Greenway project north of Shingle Creek produced 94 housing units and a senior apartment complex before the recession hit. Now the city and county are moving toward seeking proposals to build on the 95 lots that were foreclosed on or were forfeited for taxes.
Closer to downtown, several portions of Heritage Park remain undeveloped, although all of the replacement public housing has long since been built in mixed-income buildings. About 65 parcels remain north of Olson Highway, likely to become single-family homes, but a few larger parcels could attract denser housing development. South of Olson, several large parcels could hold denser residential development.
But the most prized parcel is likely to be one where Olson and Van White Boulevard intersect by a planned station of the Bottineau light-rail line. Planning is likely to propose a dense mixed-use development, although it could be 10 years or more before the Bottineau line materializes.
“I’m just waiting to hear from the market that the timing is right,” said Cherie Shoquist, a development project coordinator for the city involved in both the Heritage and Greenway projects. Meanwhile, the city is about halfway through its five-year project to build 100 energy-efficient North Side homes, subsidizing the gap between their cost and what they’ll sell for, in hopes of establishing a market for new homes with amenities.
Gruver and Jill Asfoor agree the area would benefit from more walkable neighborhood shops. Asfoor is glad there’s a new Walgreens nearby and she’s looking forward to walking to downtown and the farmers market when the weather warms. But she’d love to see restaurants, taprooms or wine bars like she and Aaron enjoyed when they rented in northeast Minneapolis.
Gruver cites south Minneapolis’ 48th and Chicago business district as the type of healthy retail that she’d like to see bloom on the other side of town.
“Tell me that commerce does not create housing value,” Gruver said. “I have buyers who come to me and say, ‘What do you do around here?’ ”