Central Community Housing Trust (CCHT) turned a long-abandoned downtown hospital here into 52 units of affordable housing, most of them for teens who are homeless or at risk of being homeless.
The four-year process of getting the $7.4 million project built was complicated by several factors, including the difficulty of pulling together financing for residents who have no rental history and very low incomes. Also, the discovery that the five-story building’s support columns needed to be rebuilt added several hundred thousand dollars to the cost, said Gina Ciganik, CCHT’s senior project manager.
But St. Barnabas had some strengths going for it, including the fact that the building was embedded in the community’s history: It was the birthplace of the city’s mayor, among many others. The community embraced the project, starting with the Episcopal Diocese of Minnesota, which raised $400,000 and helped advocate for the development. Since the project’s completion in April 2005, the diocese has continued to collect donations of household items to help the teen residents set up their new homes.
In addition to the Episcopal contribution, St. Barnabas received about $3.5 million in 9% low-income housing tax credit equity from the Enterprise Social Investment Corp. The Hennepin County Housing Redevelopment Authority contributed $309,000, Minneapolis $800,000, and the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency $830,000. Allina Hospitals and Clinics donated the hospital building, valued at $636,000. Other sources of funding include the University of St. Thomas, the Wells Memorial Foundation, and other public and private organizations. There was even pro-bono design help from the local chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers.
All of the 52 efficiency units are affordable; 39 are reserved for youth aged 16 to 20 and the remaining 13 units are for adults earning no more than 50% of the area median income. The adult units rent for about $500. The youth pay 30% of their incomes toward their rent, with Sec. 8 assistance.
CCHT, a nonprofit developer with 1,252 affordable units of various types in the Twin Cities area and more than 800 units in development, made use of what it had learned in previous youth housing developments. For example, it had found that 30 or 40 is the ideal number of young residents to create efficiency in paying for a front desk and providing personalized services. When the hospital building yielded more units than that, CCHT turned the top floor into adult units, which are accessed by a separate entrance.
Local nonprofit YouthLink provides a 24-hour presence and on-site resident services; it raises the money itself from public and private sources. Its services include helping residents get an education and find employment, as well as offering them training in basic life skills such as cooking, cleaning and money management.
With an estimated 945 homeless teens in Minneapolis, CCHT prefers to focus on projects like this that directly serve local needs.
“People say we’re crazy for taking on some of the things we take on,” said Ciganik. But she points with pride to the results: A hospital that had sat abandoned and boarded-up for 20 years is now “on the tax rolls, and … it’s providing this great service for young people to change their lives so they don’t have to rely on the system and can start building a life for themselves.”