The devastating tornadoes that ripped though the North Side of Minneapolis in 2011 helped focus attention on one of the biggest problems facing the neighborhood — the lack of decent, affordable "workforce" housing for families.

It's also an area where researchers have found that only a minority of residents hold driver's licenses, so it is dependent on public transportation to get its residents to and from jobs.

Those two factors have combined to drive an affordable, transit-oriented housing development along W. Broadway that city officials also hope will serve as a catalyst for more rejuvenation in the Jordan neighborhood.

Dubbed West Broadway Crescent, the 54-unit effort from St. Paul-based affordable housing developer CommonBond Communities and the Basilica of St. Mary last week received site plan approval and the necessary variances from the Minneapolis Planning Commission to begin work on a vacant, city-owned redevelopment site along the busy street's "curve," which funnels four Metro Transit bus lines.

Jen Oscarson, senior housing development manager for CommonBond, said the $11.4 million project will help fulfill pressing community needs on several levels.

"In 2011, after the tornado went through, it really became apparent that north Minneapolis was in need of quality housing," she said. "The Basilica of St. Mary approached us and was interested in providing housing with services to the North Side. Meanwhile, the city was interested because they'd had a few previous developments proposed for this site that fell apart due to lack of funding."

CommonBond has attracted $5.3 million from investors taking advantage of low-income housing tax credits and tax-exempt bonds. A $2.2 million interest-free deferred loan from the state's Economic Development and Housing Challenge initiative is another financing cornerstone.

Other funding sources include a $1 million Metropolitan Council transit-oriented development grant, $750,000 from city of Minneapolis' Affordable Housing Trust Fund and $550,000 from Hennepin County.

Meanwhile, the Basilica of St. Mary is providing funding donated through parishioners' charitable contributions to pay for three years' worth of social services to be available on-site, the nature of which will be determined after the units are fully leased.

Of West Broadway Crescent's 54 units, 49 will be set aside for low-income families with five available at market rates. The units will be big enough to comfortably accommodate working families — the majority will be two-bedroom measuring around 925 square feet, with 11 three-bedroom units ranging up to 1,286 square feet. Rents will range from $860 to $980 per month.

Oscarson said the architectural design from Elness Swenson Graham emphasizes the site's role as a gateway into the city from the northwest.

"The city wanted a catalytic development on that corner welcoming people into the Jordan neighborhood, and we've really designed the building around that. For instance, it will have 30-foot front yard setbacks, so even though it's high-density, it will feel more like a home with a green space in front."

A unique aspect of the design is a partnership with Juxtaposition Arts, a North Side nonprofit youth art program. Its members have been commissioned to produce a public art installation for a pocket park within the apartment site, as well as a sculpture garden on the garage-level rooftop space and a new bus shelter in front of the building at W. Broadway and Logan Avenue N.

As part of their transit orientation, the apartments will include a bus notification system to alert residents of arrival and departure times.

The lot has a sloped grade, so the designs include tuck-under garages in the rear — an unusual feature for affordable housing.

Don Jacobson is a freelance writer in St. Paul.