Linden Hills affordable housing advances

A single dollar makes a dream of affordable housing in Linden Hills possible; another million dollars will make the dream into a reality.

On April 14, the Metropolitan Council unanimously approved the $1 sale of a small lot at 3824 W. 44th St. to the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA).

MPHA will take the land and a $1 million forgivable loan from the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund and build five units of public housing.

The Minneapolis City Council’s Community Development Committee has recommended approval of the million-dollar loan; the full Council votes on it Friday, April 30.

Though the Council committee vote was unanimous, Chairwoman Lisa Goodman (7th Ward) and Councilmember Gary Schiff (9th Ward) expressed concern that the cost-per-unit of the project was high.

"A million dollars for five units does seem to be somewhat excessive," Goodman said.

The cost of each of the two-story, three- or four-bedroom, 1,750-square-foot townhouse units is $200,000.

Dean Carlson, MPHA housing development coordinator, said he expects the Council to approve the loan but acknowledges the Council’s concerns.

"We’re anticipating $115 per square foot construction costs, and I think that’s pretty much in line with a small townhome project," he said. "We’re not building Taj Mahals, but we’re not building the bare minimum either. We could’ve squeezed eight units on that site, but they would’ve been tiny and would not have reflected the characteristics of the neighborhood."

Carlson added, "There’s concern that [the city is] spending a million dollars and only getting five units, and in the future to do this, we need to bring other partners to the table so that we’re not relying on one entity for the bulk of the funding."

Carlson said that, in the past, the federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) provided funding for similar projects but that the agency no longer does.

HUD shifted priorities during the Clinton and Bush administrations from building public housing to subsidizing rents for people living in poverty, as Congress repeatedly took large bites out of the agency’s budgets.

After the Linden Hills townhomes are built, they will be rented to low-income families on MPHA’s 4,000-family affordable housing waiting list.

The townhomes will be rented to families with incomes of 30 percent or less of the metropolitan median income, meaning eligible families would have incomes of $22,920 or less, according to HUD.

Carlson hopes construction will begin this fall. "If not, we’ll be ready to go when the ground thaws next spring," he said.

He estimates that it will take nine months to complete the project.