Hennepin Avenue youth housing project finds skeptics and supporters

Four-story Peris Housing would include 15 supportive housing units for youth

Developer Jim Graves (center) speaks to Lowry Hill residents Sept. 5.

Lowry Hill neighbors pressed for details Tuesday on the financing, operations and demographics of a youth housing project proposed for the former Bradstreet site at 1930 Hennepin Ave.

An architect for the John and Denise Graves Foundation presented a design for 41 units of affordable housing in a four-story building that includes commercial space and aims to blend with the scale and aesthetic of its neighbors. Fifteen permanent supportive housing units would target youth in Hennepin County’s extended foster care program earning below 30 percent of area median income. The remaining apartments would rent to tenants with income levels of about $30,000–$35,000, with rents of about $800 per month for a studio.

Foundation staff said they would engage the renters to serve as mentors for the lower-income youth in the building. Maximum capacity in the building would be 82 people.

Rendering by Collage Architects
Rendering by Collage Architects

Lowry Hill resident Mike Roess said he thinks the project is good, but attention must be paid to parking problems and early morning trash pickup issues. Resident Toni D’Eramo said she fears congestion that began with Burch Steak would be aggravated by the development.

“I don’t care who lives there. … The street is already overcrowded,” D’Eramo said.

Some residents said they expect that even if youth take public transportation, they will also keep a car, or buy one as soon as they can afford it.

The project would include 15 enclosed parking stalls.

Jim Graves of Graves Hospitality said Bradstreet had 120 seats, by comparison, and any commercial or office development would also drive demand for parking.

“What would be better?” asked Graves, who is developing the project. “… You’re on the wrong side of history if you want more parking.”

One resident questioned where youth would find affordable food in the neighborhood, and suggested a site closer to Cub Foods in Uptown.

“You’re going to be surprised how transit-wise kids are,” Graves said in response.

Some residents questioned the developer’s motives.

“I think you’re going to make a lot of money on this project,” D’Eramo said.

“I guess no good deed goes unpunished,” Graves responded.

Graves said he is contributing a half-million dollars to the project, and said the land is being transferred to the foundation at fair market value.

Resident Sarah Janecek pressed for answers on the financing and ownership of the building.

“This is so much money for an untested program,” Janecek said.

Development consultant Sarah Larson of the Landon Group said the building would cost $10.1 million, primarily funded by the federal low-incoming housing tax credit program. The funding is awarded through a competitive point system, and the City Council is expected to vote on the next allocation this fall. Building operations would be funded by rents as well as rent subsidies issued through the extended foster care program.

Funding for services including mental health and job placement would run about $350,000 a year, and the Graves Foundation has committed the first 10 years of funding. The foundation would raise public and private funds to continue the services, and the foundation must commit to providing affordable housing and services for a minimum of 45 years. The building would remain on the city’s property tax rolls.

The building would be owned by the nonprofit and investors that purchase the tax credits, which are paid out over 10 years. Less than 1 percent of such projects go into foreclosure, Larson said.

Janecek asked about the potential for crime; she said Nextdoor posts often raise concerns about kids committing crimes to buy drugs.

In response, Larson said tenants would sign leases that threaten eviction for criminal activity. Youth must work or attend school for a minimum of 80 hours per month, she said. Full-time front desk personnel and a manager would work onsite.

While the exchange between development representatives and residents became heated at times, some neighbors stood up to speak in support of the project.

One resident said he lives nearby and thinks the concept is “phenomenal.” He said he works in job placement for people with disabilities, and he sees success with programs that rely on peers and experience in the field.

“This concept is not unproven,” he said. “… I’d love to have these folks in our community.”

The Sept. 5 meeting ended with calls for a moderator at future meetings.

“There’s been a lot of antagonism expressed that many of us don’t feel,” one attendee said.