St. Paul-based CommonBond Communities, one of the biggest nonprofit housing developers in the Midwest, is in the midst of an aggressive expansion that includes its first project in South Dakota and several key acquisitions, construction and affordable housing preservation projects in the Twin Cities, Iowa and Wisconsin that will add more than 900 units to its portfolio this year.

In Rapid City, the group is buying land from a church where it plans to build about 50 rental homes, likely for families. A tax credit application to the South Dakota Housing Development Authority will be submitted later this month.

Cecile Bedor, CommonBond's vice president of real estate, said the group was invited to Rapid City by the philanthropic community. Funders include the Rapid City Collective Impact, Black Hills Area Community Foundation and John T. Vucurevich Foundation.

She said the goal is to develop or acquire 400 to 450 units over the next several years in South Dakota.

On Thursday the group closed on its purchase of a site in Roseville where it plans to build Owasso Gardens, 60 income-restricted senior rentals including eight units dedicated to formerly homeless vets. CommonBond has received a funding commitment from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency and expects to close on tax credits that will enable it to start construction in November.

The group also recently announced the acquisition of Willow Wood Estates, 40 townhouses in a highly desirable area for families near Medicine Lake in Plymouth. The property is being acquired from Twin Cities-based Dominium.

CommonBond's expansion is being fueled by deepening demand for income-restricted rentals at a time of growing uncertainty for cash-strapped renters. Bedor said with the unemployment rate skyrocketing and the status of a national relief effort still uncertain, renters are nervous and a growing number are struggling to pay their rent.

At CommonBond, rent collections are down, but the nonprofit is working with tenants to help keep them housed, said Alicia Cordes-Mayo, CommonBond's director of strategic and internal communications.

"There are still a lot of residents who are working hard and able to make rent payments, but probably at the expense of food and medications," said Cordes-Mayo.

"Covid has exacerbated that and made it more challenging. We're waiting to see every month what it looks like."

The group provides a variety of support services for its residents, ranging from employment assistance to a homework program that's scored a 100% graduation rate for its participants.

CommonBond recently opened Headwaters Landing in Forest Lake, which leased up faster than any other new property in its portfolio.

In May, the group opened its first project in Madison, Wis., a new senior community called Point Place.

It also recently acquired and closed on rehab financing for a 90-unit family property on the north side of Milwaukee, and recently opened its second housing community in Waterloo, Iowa.

In the Twin Cities CommonBond has several projects underway.

One of its most notable is an income-restricted rental project on the Ford site development in St. Paul, which is being redeveloped by Minneapolis-based Ryan Cos.

On the cusp of its 50th anniversary, CommonBond now manages more than 7,500 rentals that house nearly twice that many people.

Its projects are financed with donations and complex layers of financing tools including funding from a variety of public sources including housing bonds and tax-increment financing.

"We have a pretty sophisticated team who knows how to do this work, which is complicated — it's real estate development on steroids," said Bedor.

"It's not for the faint of heart."