Residents began moving into the second phase of the Dorothy Day Place in St. Paul, Minn., at the end of September. Owned and operated by Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, the new development includes 177 units of permanent supportive housing as well as a 69,000-square-foot Opportunity Center that will provide more than 225,000 meals a year plus health and dental care, job training, and other critical services for those experiencing poverty.
Combined with an earlier first phase that’s across the street, the campus provides 370 permanent supportive homes and 356 emergency shelter and medical respite beds.
“It’s the largest public-private partnership involving housing and services in Minnesota state history,” says Tim Marx, president and CEO of Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis, a key provider of services for people who are homeless and other vulnerable residents in the region.
Recognizing the considerable scale and complexity of the $75 million second phase, the nonprofit and its partners knew the project needed an experienced developer and reached out to Dominium, a Minnesota-based for-profit company that’s one of the nation’s largest developers and owners of affordable housing.
Paul Sween, managing partner at Dominium, not only agreed that his company would develop the project for Catholic Charities but it would do it for free. It turned out to be an invaluable gift.
"We instinctively said 'yes' to helping with the [Dorothy Day Place] project when our partner U.S. Bank asked us to do so simply because we knew how important it was to them," Sween says. "We know the great work of Catholic Charities and how critical the transformation of the property would be to their mission. What we didn’t know is how transformational the work would be for us. We discovered what an honor it is to share the years of experience we have in developing affordable housing that works. It refocused us; we now devote 10% of our development time to pro bono projects. We love seeing how this work changes lives."
Marx calls Dominium their “angel.” “It gave such confidence to our board, the broader community, [and] our investors and donors that we had an organization like Dominium that was guiding us through a very complicated construction and financing project,” he says. “The community would get the best value with Dominium as our partner. Because of the skill of Dominium, we were able to do things faster, better, smarter, [and] cheaper than we would have otherwise been able to.”
At the same time, Catholic Charities said it would be demanding client and made it clear that it would have to treat Dominium the same as any other consultant.
Jeff Huggett, a 22-year veteran of Dominium, took the lead. He and others at the firm invested 24 months and 4,300 working hours in the development, including helping to arrange the financing and managing the construction. That investment was “priceless,” Marx says, who also credits the efforts of city, county, and state government officials as well as the project’s financing partners, including business leaders who helped raise $40 million in a capital campaign.
Dorothy Day Place is not only making a huge difference in the lives of its residents, it’s changed Dominium.
The project became so significant to Huggett that he approached his partners to let them know he was planning to leave and open his own consulting shop so he could concentrate on doing similar work with other nonprofits. Instead, Sween and other leaders at the firm suggested Huggett remain on staff, giving him access to company resources to do pro bono work on behalf of Dominium. It was a deal that Huggett, vice president and project partner, couldn’t refuse.
“It’s exciting work,” he says. “Every community is different, every nonprofit is different. The needs are different.”
It’s rewarding for the company’s senior partners as well as its team of young associates, many of whom are in their 20s and early 30s and are inspired by the work, according to Huggett.
Dominium has a history of building needed affordable housing on its own for families and seniors often earning up to 60% of the area median income. The collaboration with nonprofits like Catholic Charities, however, allows the firm to reach residents at a much lower income level.
Huggett says the firm has identified a handful of other pro bono projects to work on—including a second one with Catholic Charities of St. Paul and Minneapolis—in Minnesota and outside of the area, possibly as far away as Colorado and Florida. The company hopes to help even more nonprofits with meaningful developments, particularly in communities where Dominium is active.
There’s no question that the firm receives good PR and recognition for its pro bono work, but it’s more than that, says Huggett, who shares the adage: To whom much is given, much is expected.
“Dominium has embraced that idea,” he says. “We’re a leader in this industry, and we’ve got to make sure we’re acting like it.”