Developer to build 70 homes in response to Mpls. homeless camp

Minneapolis homeless encampment
Newly fallen snow coats walkways and tents at the Minneapolis homeless encampment on Saturday. Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative announced this week a campaign to raise $1 million in private contributions to build a 70-unit apartment building in response to the camp.
Max Nesterak | MPR News

A Twin Cities affordable housing developer plans to build a 70-unit apartment building in Minneapolis in response to the homeless encampment along Franklin and Hiawatha avenues.

Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative announced this week a campaign to raise $1 million in private contributions for the project, which is expected to cost $18 million to $20 million. Executive director Lee Blons says the idea came out of a community meeting of people from its member congregations last month.

"The visibility [of] the encampment — people literally living in tents in our affluent community — has really shocked people," Blons said. "So we brought our clergy and congregational leaders together to ask the question, 'how can we best respond with the resources we have?'"

Many details about the project, including its location, are still to be determined. Blons says it will be based on a so-called "housing first" approach, which means there won't be sobriety, employment, or other common requirements to live there. The organization hopes to begin construction next year.

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In the meantime, Beacon is working with the Red Lake Nation and Minneapolis-based non-profit Avivo to move up to 35 people from the encampment into existing Beacon properties. Red Lake and Avivo aim to house at least 100 people from the encampment in the next several months.

Lee says they've been able to house about a dozen people from the encampment so far, but have been limited by having virtually no vacant units in their 17 apartment buildings.

The most recent Wilder Research survey estimates more than 9,000 people in the state are homeless. What's more, more than a quarter of Minnesota households pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Waiting lists for rental subsidies and other public housing programs stretch into the thousands.

"In addition to those at the encampment there are over a thousand people who are already on the waiting list at Hennepin County for the kind of housing that we would create," Blons said. "So as we are very excited to announce the development of a 70-unit apartment building, we also know it's not enough."

A Housing Task Force convened by Gov. Mark Dayton estimates the state needs to create an additional 300,000 new homes by 2030.