Neighborhoods oppose halfway house for federal prisoners

Mississippi-based MINACT would convert former mansions into residential reentry facility

The former residences at 212 and 224 W. Franklin Ave. have been converted into office space. Credit: Kristin Lebben

STEVENS SQUARE — The Stevens Square and the Whittier neighborhood organizations both went on record in March opposing an out-of-state company’s plan to convert two former mansions into a halfway house for federal prisoners.

Mississippi-based MINACT aims to convert 212 and 224 W. Franklin Ave. into a residential reentry center for 60 offenders nearing the ends of their prison terms. MINACT was responding to a Department of Justice request for proposals for such a facility located in either Hennepin or Ramsey county.

MINACT operates education and career training centers in nine states on a U.S. Department of Labor contract, including the Hubert H. Humphrey Jobs Corps Center in St. Paul. But this would be its first foray into a residential reentry program for prisoners, said Lyn Dockter-Pinnick, vice president of operations for MINACT.

Dockter-Pinnick said MINACT had a “tentative agreement” to lease the properties, but the company won’t find out until August if it’s been awarded the contract.

The location puts the halfway house in Stevens Square just north of its border with Whittier. The organizations representing both neighborhoods have long argued they host a disproportionate number of social services, including group facilities, transitional housing and homeless shelters, and that those services should be spread throughout the city instead of concentrated in its core.

“The neighborhoods, between Whittier and Stevens Square, we carry a significant portion of the burden,” said Marian Biehn, executive director of the Whittier Alliance. “We do offer a lot of the services. And nobody’s asking anybody to leave, but we’re asking it to be shared.”

Stevens Square Community Organization [SSCO] Executive Director Steven Gallagher estimated eight facilities operated by social services organizations were located within two blocks of the proposed halfway house.

The century-old mansions have been converted into office space and are connected by a walkway. Hennepin County property records list Sirney Real Estate Investments LLC as the current owner of both buildings.

Dockter-Pinnick said MINACT selected the tentative location for the halfway house on the basis of its proximity to downtown and the easy access to transit.

“The key thing is jobs,” she said. “One of the things about location is just access to the bus line and points of opportunity for work.”

The boards of directors for both SSCO and the Whittier Alliance passed resolutions in March opposing MINACT’s plan for the properties.

MINACT’s proposal calls for housing 48 male and 12 female prisoners separately in the two buildings. They would live at the halfway house while establishing steady work and housing in the community prior to their release.

As required by the Justice Department, MINACT contacted both Ward 6 City Council Member Robert Lilligren and Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman in February to inform them of the proposal. Dockter-Pinnick characterized the local response to the proposal as “very favorable,” but both Lilligren and Dorfman said they would not support MINACT’s application.