“Rita’s House” plans low-cost rentals for youth

The Bridge for Youth plans to convert a house at 2200 Emerson Ave. S. into rental housing for youth at risk of homelessness.

The Bridge for Youth is among the first in the city to create an “intentional community,” a new designation that allows more unrelated people to live together than zoning code typically allows.

A house the Bridge owns at 2200 Emerson Ave. S. is slated to become rental housing next year for up to 13 youth at high risk of homelessness. “Rita’s House” would be open to young people age 18-21.

While the Bridge historically focuses on kids age 10-17, staff are finding that youth who age out of the program at 1111 W. 22nd St. have few options.

“People won’t rent to them because they’re young, they often have no credit or poor credit, and even if they can get a place they have limited income so they have a hard time having something to afford,” said Michelle Basham, executive director of the Bridge.

Even youth with Hennepin County assistance can’t find property owners willing to rent to them, she said.

“There is a dramatic shortage of affordable housing,” she said. “I think it’s getting worse. .. If you can afford $1,500-$1,800 for an apartment, you can find a place. But if you’re living on minimum wage and working two or three jobs to make ends meet, it’s difficult to even afford something that’s $700 or $800 a month.”

While the state’s total number of homeless has declined in the past three years, the number of homeless youth has increased 46 percent, Basham said.

As part of the Rita’s House program (named for Bridge founder Sister Rita Steinhagen), staff would bank a portion of rent so youth can leave with a little nest egg for a new apartment. Youth are expected to stay for about one or two years before moving on.

Each tenant would have a personal bedroom and share kitchen, bathroom and common living spaces. A case manager would work at the house, and an affordable housing manager would handle property management.

Image courtesy of The Bridge for Youth
Image courtesy of The Bridge for Youth

The Bridge used the Emerson Avenue house for emergency shelter until 2014, when it consolidated all of its beds into the headquarters across the street with initial plans to sell the house. (The Bridge did sell a house next door at 1209 W. 22nd St. to Temple Israel. Staff at Temple Israel said they haven’t decided how to use the property, which backs up onto the Temple parking lot.)

The property’s conditional use permit to allow a state-licensed community residential facility expired, and due to spacing requirements, it can’t be reinstated. Upon consulting with city staff, the Bridge landed on a solution to create an intentional community. Basham said the application does not require any zoning variances or conditional use permit through the city’s Zoning & Planning Committee.

The Bridge is working to raise nearly $300,000 to renovate the building and furnish it.

The grand opening is expected by the spring of 2018.