Basilica partnership brings affordable housing to north side

| December 17, 2014 | 0 Comments

Where Broadway Avenue bends in north Minneapolis from its straight westerly direction to head northwest, a new apartment building — West Broadway Crescent — matches the curve in the street.

The nursery tags are still on the landscaping bushes and the first residents have just moved into the 54-unit building. With the shortage of affordable housing in the area, though, “It looks like it will be fully leased within three months,” Ann Ruff said.

Ruff is vice president of resource development at CommonBond, the nonprofit organization that developed and is managing the apartment complex.

One of the largest developers of affordable housing in the country, CommonBond already has a presence in the neighborhood at
St. Anne’s Senior Housing just up the street.

But the organization was prodded to do more from a Catholic source that itself is no stranger to helping people into good quality housing: the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.

“They pushed us to do what’s considered challenging work,” Ruff said. “If not for their commitment, both through funding and volunteering, West Broadway Crescent wouldn’t have happened.”

More than charity

Janice Anderson explained the basilica parish’s role in making West Broadway Crescent a reality. She’s the basilica’s director of Christian life.

After tithing 10 percent from a capital campaign several years ago, Anderson said, the parish looked for ways to leverage some $700,000 to do more than provide food and shoes to the needy, which it has been doing for decades.

“We have a lot of relationships on the north side, and we know the need for good, quality housing there,” she added.

“We started looking for partners. CommonBond is absolutely the perfect partner for us. They were very willing to work with us and share the dream with us,” Anderson said.

With the basilica’s money in hand, CommonBond was able to leverage other funding, including grants from the city.

Ruff said, “After the foreclosure crisis and the tornado that ripped through the north side [in May 2012], the City of Minneapolis was interested in developing the area,” she said. “They wanted to put in the highest quality affordable housing for the people who wanted to live there and make it a truly livable community.”

The basilica’s good reputation with north side community leaders and organizations — and with elected officials — brought trust to the project, Anderson said.

Area ripe for development

Nearby, empty lots sit next to remaining homes and businesses, and, just a block west, acres sit vacant where Broadway intersects Penn Avenue.

Building anything in the area would be a risky venture.

“In any community under pressure, all real estate is risky,” Ruff admitted, “but more so given the foreclosure crisis and the tornado.”

Of 10 parcels of land that West Broadway Crescent now occupies, five were in foreclosure, Ruff said, but the area also has pluses, including the North Side YMCA nearby.

The basilica’s involvement meant CommonBond was able to attract additional partners, grassroots organizations such as Neighborhood Achievement Zone that were interested in helping families be stable and children be successful.

As it does in other affordable housing complexes, CommonBond is including its Advantage Services onsite at West Broadway Crescent. What free services will be available will depend on the needs of the residents, and parishioners of the basilica will be active as volunteers, the parish’s Anderson said.

“Now that the housing is built, our partnership is not over,” she said.

Parishioners have already been working with potential residents to make them “rent-ready,” Anderson said. To qualify, residents must meet a low-income standard but still be able to pay the rent, which is steeply discounted.

“We had parishioner and volunteer lawyers work to clear up any issues that might be keeping people from qualifying for this type of housing,” Anderson said.

She sees the parish’s activity as a response to the call of the Catholic faith to shelter the homeless but also to alleviate the root causes of poverty, “to transform the social order in light of the gospel of love,” she said.

“It’s an act of faith,” she added. “We have an opportunity and an obligation to do this, and we are grateful to have the ability to serve in this way.”

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Category: Local News