Loan program approved for greek houses will update the crumbling, historic buildings

by Brian Edwards

Crumbling brickwork and outdated windows plague fraternities like Delta Chi because of stipulations resulting from their historical designation.
“We have to use non-modern looking windows, and they are ridiculously expensive,” said Connor Johnson, president of the fraternity. 
Now, greek chapters at the University of Minnesota with houses in disrepair have a way to finance their needed renovations.
Fraternities and sororities short on cash and in need of repair can now receive loans from the University after the Board of Regents approved a program to lend greek chapters money for home improvement projects.
The University of Minnesota Foundation and the University will each contribute half of the $3 million dollar fund that can be used for renovation and repairs, like replacing doors and windows or making structural changes.
The owners of the homes can apply for either a 5-, 10- or 15-year loan with a maximum amount of $300,000 for projects already on a preapproved list.
The low interest loans — between 1 and 3 percent — are fixed to the market, which will allow the program to continue to be successful throughout the lives of the loans, said Sarah Harris, managing director of the University of Minnesota Foundation Real Estate Advisors.
“We spent roughly the last year working with the University, the Foundation and the chapters themselves to find what loan program would improve the houses,” she said.
Harris said the program is designed to be as simple and low cost as possible so chapters can easily repair their houses, some of which require extensive work.
Because many greek houses are under historical designation, making repairs can be difficult and expensive, she said. The program will allow chapters to address their needs while adhering to the guidelines of historical designation, she said.
The greek houses’ outward appearance can’t be altered significantly, but their interiors can be changed.
Johnson said his chapter planned to renovate brickwork on the exterior of the house and improve its basement long before the Board of Regents approved the loan program.
In order to comply with the historic designation and not change the exterior of the building that faces the street, Delta Chi is reusing the old bricks from the building and only replacing the mortar, he said.
Johnson said they would like to move forward with the window project but need to secure the funds to do so first. He said the chapter may look to the loan program to finance the renovations.
Regent David McMillan said many greek houses are in need of repair, and lending money to chapters at the University will help provide better housing.
“There may be other groups at the University that play a similar role, but none of them provide housing like the greek community,” he said.
Once the University and the University of Minnesota Foundation formally approve the program, greek houses will be able to apply for the loans, Harris said. She said she hopes to have the website for the program running by next week.