An impressive collaboration is at work on a 110-unit affordable-housing complex on S. Cedar Avenue near Franklin that will provide decent shelter to working poor and indigent households.

The project should add a positive chapter to the memory of last year’s nearby tent city homeless encampment of several hundred people, disproportionately American Indians. 

Construction could commence as early as September on the $35.8 million project at the site of a demolished factory that also has served as a temporary home this winter to 100-plus residents of the former encampment.

The developer is the Red Lake Band of Chippewa. Some members, as well as thousands of other Indians live in the area at the east end of the diverse, low-income Phillips neighborhood.

Over the last 25 years, the area has become known as a “cultural corridor” along E. Franklin Avenue, from the American Indian Center to Norway House. The area boasts badly needed housing, such as Anishinabe Wakiagun supportive housing and Many Rivers apartments, along with commerce, art and ethnic food spots.

Sam Strong, a Red Lake official, is pleased with the 110-unit “Mino-Bimaadiziwin” housing project on Cedar, to be erected on tribe-owned land, complete with a health clinic and near training and employment resources and Metro Transit’s Blue Line.

“We seek to serve the population of this community, some of whom are Red Lakers,” Strong said. “It’s not just housing.”

More than a third of the Mino-Bimaadiziwin units will house formerly homeless and the lowest-income families.

Mayor Jacob Frey, with expected county and state support, has budgeted a record $40 million this year to produce more affordable housing for more city families with household incomes that are at or below half of the Twin Cities median of about $90,000.

Mino-Bimaadiziwin translates roughly to “good life.” It is interpreted to mean that Indian people are born with gifts that enable them to appreciate, learn, develop and prosper in harmony with nature and other people.

“We’re shooting for a fall groundbreaking with Mino-Bimaadiziwin,” said Angie Skildum, residential finance manager for Minneapolis’ Community Planning and Economic Development department. “This project meets many of Minneapolis’ highest priorities for affordable housing. It provides mixed-use, mixed-income housing for families, including large families, on a [vacant] site along a transit-oriented commercial corridor.”

Thirty of the units are three bedrooms, which are in severe shortage, she said. Another 35 will be available to families at 30 percent of the area’s median income, and 18 will be set aside for homeless families or individuals. Six will accommodate people with disabilities.

“The percentage of large units and extremely low-income units are higher than we can typically achieve,” Skildum said, “due to the incredible partnership of so many funders.”

The Red Lake band owns the land, valued at $1.8 million. The bulk of the financing will come from an $11.3 million mortgage and $11.5 million will come from institutional investors, which will benefit from long-term federal tax credits for investing in low-income housing.

Hennepin County, the Metropolitan Council, Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, the city’s housing fund and private donors also are contributing to the project.

The architect is Sam Olbekson, of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe, who grew up in the neighborhood and graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1989. He graduated from the Harvard Graduate School of Design.

A principal of architectural firm Cuningham Group, Olbekson also is the founding principal of Full Circle Indigenous Planning. It has served tribal communities with building design and services since 2010.

The Red Lake band project is more than a good project at the right location.

“In 2017, my [city] department closed financing on four projects through our affordable-housing trust funds,” Skildum said. “In 2018, we closed on 12 projects. It takes time, but there will be more projects. The mayor and our partners are committed.”

It’s tough to contribute to the economy, community and the common good without a decent home.

After months of reading about the homeless encampment, it’s good to know many of those folks already have permanent housing. And others with aspirations of a better life will soon be living in dignity in a welcome addition to our city.

The housing will be managed by Twin Cities-based CommonBond, the area's largest low-income housing manager.