Dick Brustad helped develop thousands of housing units across the Twin Cities, including the conversion of several derelict riverfront mill buildings into some of the most expensive condominiums in the city. He was most proud of his work for homeless veterans and the poor.
“He never lost his passion for affordable housing, and for him that meant units that would remain affordable over time,” said Peggy Lucas, one of Brustad’s business partners. “He was an amazing man who advocated his entire life for affordable housing.”
Brustad, who led several public and private housing entities during his career, died of a heart attack on Jan. 3. He was 75.
Brustad was born in Bagley, Minn., and married his high school sweetheart, Janet, who was a fellow saxophone player in the Bagley High School band. He cherished time with his grandparents, was religious about attending his high school class reunions and was the first in his family to go to college — he studied political science and economics at the University of Minnesota.
“It was his first trip to a big city,” said son Tim Brustad.
During college, money was tight, so for a time he lived in public housing, which helped open his eyes to the swelling need for stable and safe urban housing.
In 1963, the family moved to Chicago, where Brustad worked with the U.S. Housing and Home Finance Agency, but by 1966 they moved back to the Twin Cities where he was hired as director of North Side Redevelopment for what was then known as the Minneapolis Housing and Redevelopment Authority.
In 1971, Brustad became housing director for the Metropolitan Council of the Twin Cities, where he helped implement policies that led to the development of affordable housing in the suburbs. In 1972, he became the assistant director of the Greater Minneapolis Metropolitan Housing Corporation, an organization that was founded by the business community to help build affordable housing.
Brustad helped build the Plymouth Avenue townhouses, renovate several historic houses along Milwaukee Avenue and developed the first affordable housing development in Eden Prairie.
In 1975, he became executive director of the Minneapolis Housing and Redevelopment Authority, where he managed more than 10,000 income-restricted rental units and was a proponent of rehabilitating homes rather than razing them.
In 1979, Brustad became the vice president of Nationwide Housing Corporation, which focused on income-restricted housing in outstate Minnesota. Just a couple of years later, Brustad partnered with Lucas and Linda Donaldson to found Brighton Development Corporation, which over the course of the next nearly 20 years developed 6,300 housing units. The firm specialized in difficult infill urban sites that other developers didn’t want to tackle, including several once-industrial acres along the Mississippi River where dilapidated but historic mill buildings were converted into condominiums and townhouses.
Those projects, including the North Star Woolen Mills and Washburn Lofts, helped spark the revitalization of the once-blighted areas, including the Mill District, which is now home to several nationally known cultural attractions such as the Mill City Museum, Guthrie on the River and McPhail School of Music.
In 2000, Brustad became president of the Community Housing Development Corporation, a nonprofit that manages more than 4,300 affordable housing units, including a nationally lauded project developed in partnership with Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis that aims to help homeless people establish permanent housing.
In addition to wife Janet, Brustad is survived by four children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. A memorial service has been held.