Southwest residents wary about planned affordable housing project

KINGFIELD — Residents who would live near a planned affordable apartment complex for homeless youth and young adults brought plenty of concerns to a community discussion about the project Nov. 7 at Martin Luther King Park Recreation Center.

The Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation is working with youth service provider YouthLink on the development, slated to replace a vacant funeral home at 3700 Nicollet Ave. Residents from Kingfield and Lyndale didn’t express doubts about the organizations’ good intentions, but said they were worried about crime, building design and mass, and other issues.   

Plans presented at the meeting called for a three-story, 42-unit building incorporating retail and office space on the first floor. The retail, possibly a coffee shop, would provide a place for tenants to work. Four two-story, three-bedroom town homes fronting 37th Street are also part of the plan.   

Each apartment would be a studio with rent ranging from $200 to $400 per month. Homeless and at-risk youth and young adults — 42 maximum — would be the sole tenants. Cost of the town homes hasn’t been determined, but they probably would not be part of the program for helping youth and young adults.   

YouthLink would provide those individuals with counseling and supportive services, including programs that teach independent living in order to make the transition to self-sufficiency and permanent housing.

"We have young people tonight who have no safe place to sleep," said Lee Blons, executive director of the Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation.

In Hennepin County, 47 percent of people experiencing homelessness are under 21, said County Commissioner Gail
Dorfman, who attended the meeting to talk about Heading Home Hennepin, the city-county plan to end homelessness by 2016. More housing and services are needed to get homeless youth off the street, she said.

Tom Parent, chairman of the Kingfield Neighborhood Association’s (KFNA) Redevelopment Committee, told meeting attendees that the housing project could be the neighborhood’s contribution to Heading Home Hennepin. The KFNA gave preliminary support to the project earlier this year and hosted the meeting to get community feedback. KFNA planned to discuss the input at its meeting Nov. 14.   

Blons said the Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation, YouthLink and project architect Cermak Rhoades, of St. Paul, would use resident input to further develop their plans.

More than 100 area residents attended the Nov. 7 meeting and spent more than an hour commenting and asking questions. Crime, building security and eviction policies were hot topics.

"In this neighborhood right now there’s prostitution, there’s a lot of crime and there are drug deals that go on right in front of our house," said Kingfield resident Tim
Anderson.

Anderson and wife Amy, who live a block away from the development site, said the area isn’t fit for 42 young people with troubled histories.

"It’s not a good place for youth that are at risk," Anderson said. "You put them where temptation is."

Kingfield resident Pascale Crepon said she wanted to know more about the young people who might not be able to turn their lives around and how their behavior might affect the neighborhood.

"You have drawn a wonderful picture," she said. "But I’m actually more suspicious now because you don’t talk about what happens when it fails."

Blons said the development wouldn’t be able to help everyone, but it would make a difference for many young people. Tenants found to be involved in drugs or serious crimes such as robbery would be evicted, she said. A security camera system would be monitored around the clock to keep tabs on who’s coming and going and what’s happening on the property, she said.  

Some residents were concerned about the possibility of a lengthy court process should a tenant refuse to leave, but Blons said that was unlikely. At the Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation’s Lydia Apartments, a similar development that opened in Stevens Square in 2003, no court process has been necessary to get someone out of the building, she said. Roughly 10–12 people are asked to leave Lydia each year for various reasons, such as inability to pay rent or involvement in drug use, Blons said.

Tom Thompson, a crime prevention specialist from the Minneapolis Police Department’s 5th Precinct, told meeting attendees that 28 people arrested for various reasons such as trespassing, loitering and narcotics during the last two years listed Lydia as their address. He said he couldn’t verify whether they actually lived there.

YouthLink-affiliated St. Barnabas Apartments at 906 S. 7th St. was listed as the address of 41 arrestees during the same time period, Thompson said, and another 16 gave the address of YouthLink-involved Archdale Apartments at 1600 1st Ave. S.

Blons said she was unaware of the arrest records and planned to meet with Thompson to discuss the issue. All potential tenants over 18 are screened for criminal history before being allowed to move into any of the apartments, she said. The same would apply to the Kingfield development, she said.    

Steven Gallagher, executive director of the Stevens Square Community Organization (SSCO) said the group was initially against Lydia but has had no complaints since it opened.

To get a firsthand look at affordable housing developments similar to what’s planned for Kingfield, the Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation is offering a tour of Lydia Apartments and St. Barnabas Apartments on Dec. 5. The tour begins at St. Barnabas at 5 p.m. The Lydia tour starts at 6 p.m.

The Kingfield project would be the first joint venture between the Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation and YouthLink. If approved, construction would begin next year and the building would open in 2009 or early 2010.