Minneapolis Public Housing Authority looks to embark on largest new construction project in nearly 20 years

Minneapolis will soon see one of the largest public housing construction projects in nearly 20 years, with the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority planning to build 84 units at 16 separate sites spread across the city starting next year. 

In all, MPHA currently has a little more than 900 housing units. The new projects would increase that total by roughly 10 percent while also adding 17 units designated for people now staying in Hennepin County homeless shelters. 

“This kind of undertaking … is a big deal for MPHA,” said Brian Schaffer, assistant director of planning and development. “We have not added this many units since the early-2000s around work we did for Heritage Park.” That project, which has over 400 units, was constructed in 2003. 

In recent years, MPHA has tried to add new housing units in response to Minneapolis’ growing need for affordable housing. The agency’s waitlist for family housing — public housing for adults with dependents — now has more than 8,000 applicants on it. In early November, MPHA briefly reopened the waitlist for family housing, and saw another 2,900 applications come in. 

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“The staggering statistic was that a little over 30 percent identified as being homeless or displaced,” MPHA deputy executive director Jennifer Keogh said of the new applicants. “You see the tents driving around. It’s staggering to know that these are kids, these are families.”

The new buildings, which include two and three-bedroom units, will “provide housing and opportunity and stability” for families, including upwards of 400 children, said Keogh. 

The 16 buildings will be spread across the city in what MPHA calls “scattered sites,” a strategy that fulfills two goals, said MPHA development manager and project lead Juan Torres. “It provides an increase in the amount of affordable housing in areas where it’s typically not present, and, in addition to that, continues to invest in areas where we do have affordable housing.”

The project is currently estimated to cost around $34 million, which includes all development, land and construction costs. A chunk of funding was provided by Minneapolis, which in July allocated $4.6 million of federal pandemic relief money from the American Rescue Plan for the project. To come up with the rest of the money, MPHA will use low income housing tax credits and bonds. It has also applied for additional funding from the Met Council, the Federal Home Loan Bank’s Affordable Housing Program and Minneapolis’ Community Planning & Economic Development.

MPHA currently owns 14 of the 16 lots where the buildings will be located, sites that currently have single-family homes and duplexes. For the last two sites, the City of Minneapolis owns part of the land on one, and all the land on the other. In the meantime, in anticipation of MPHA and the city being able to finalize a deal for the land next year, the city has given MPHA permission to do site due diligence. 

Of the 16 sites, five are in north Minneapolis; two are in northeast Minneapolis; one is in southwest Minneapolis; and eight are in south and southeast Minneapolis; the Minneapolis Planning Commission approved eight of the buildings in November; it also signed off on rezoning requests for the sites. 

“All of these are properties that would be rezoned in the next year or so anyway, as part of the implementation of Minneapolis 2040,” said senior city planner Andrew Frenz.

Each of the 16 properties will be in districts that currently allow for a maximum of three units per building. The zoning changes, which still have to be finalized by the City Council, would allow for more than three units per building.

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The proposal currently comes with two building types: three-story buildings with six units, and two-story buildings with four units. 

When available, eligible families, who will be drawn from MPHA’s housing waitlist, will pay 30 percent of their adjusted income in rent. For the 17 homelessness units, MPHA will pick among candidates referred to them by Hennepin County’s homeless assistance program.

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