Affordable housing gets funding near U

Many affordable housing complexes must rely on local approval.

Executive director of the Indian Neighborhood Club Greg LaFontaine poses in front of a rendering of the recently funded Indian Neighborhood Club Expansion project in the organization's original Group Residential Housing unit on Portland Ave. S on Friday morning.

Joe Sulik

Executive director of the Indian Neighborhood Club Greg LaFontaine poses in front of a rendering of the recently funded Indian Neighborhood Club Expansion project in the organization's original Group Residential Housing unit on Portland Ave. S on Friday morning.

Hannah Weikel

Community approval may have helped one University of Minnesota-area affordable housing project receive funding to expand its reach.
 
But getting residents on board can be a major roadblock for affordable housing developers.
 
Eleven affordable housing projects — one of which is on the West Bank near the University — received some part of about $8.8 million in Affordable Housing Trust Fund dollars.
 
Indian Neighborhood Club Executive Director Greg LaFontaine said gaining approval from Phillips neighborhood residents took years of  passing out flyers and attending neighborhood meetings. He said it took three years for the project to qualify for funding.
 
The development offers affordable housing for single men in need of drug- and alcohol-free living, said LaFontaine, which can make community members nervous.
 
“The community thinks these men will be using alcohol and drugs,” he said. “But in reality, communities can be improved with this type of housing.” 
 
University Humphrey School of Public Affairs community and economic development assistant professor Ryan Allen said affordable housing is typically concentrated in minority and impoverished areas.
 
Still, finding inexpensive land in Minneapolis can restrict where a developer builds housing, Community Planning and Economic Development Committee Multifamily Finance Specialist Carrie Flack said.
 
Because of job, education and transportation availability near the University, the area serves as an ideal location for new affordable housing developments, said James Lehnhoff, vice president of housing development for Aeon, a development in Prospect Park.
 
University areas without designated affordable housing can cause problems for low-income families who can’t compete with students looking for cheap rent, Allen said.
 
The housing shortage extends past University neighborhoods, Flack said, adding that the lack of affordable housing nationwide isn’t new.
 
To apply for an Affordable Housing Trust Fund allocation, developers must fill out a self-scoring worksheet, which rates housing based on items like long-term affordability and neighborhood support.
 
Lehnhoff said Aeon’s Prospect Park project didn’t receive funding this year, despite its overall high score.
 
“It’s not surprising we weren’t approved because this is our first year applying,” he said. 
 
“The process for affordable housing takes a number of years, and the application process is extremely competitive.”
 
When the Indian Neighborhood Club opened in 1971, the Phillips neighborhood had prostitution and drug issues, LaFontaine said. 
 
Now, multiple housing projects line the block, along with security systems and improved lighting, he said, adding that there’s still room for improvement.
 
“The new location is still pretty rough,” he said.
 
The Club’s funding will cover an expansion to build a new complex over a currently vacant lot three blocks from their home base, LaFontaine said.
 
This application round marked the third year LaFontaine applied for funding from the Affordable Housing Trust Fund. But this was the first year the project scored high enough to be eligible, he said.
 
“We need this expansion,” he said. “There are 30 to 40 new guys applying for housing here each month, and we want to be able to give them a place to live.”