Apartments for men coming out of prison planned for North Loop

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On the edge of the North Loop, a Twin Cities nonprofit organization is planning to build apartments for men who are rebuilding their lives.

Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative recently received funding to build a $14.1 million rental apartment building for 72 men who have been in jail, homeless or unemployed on a vacant site in the North Loop, a warehouse district near downtown that gentrified in recent years.

Better Futures Minnesota, another Twin Cities-based nonprofit, will provide 24-hour on-site support services for those men as they try to find work, establish a rental history and reconnect with their families, creating what is expected to become a national model for how to help troubled men who are trying to re-enter society.

“These are men who have made a commitment to change their lives,” said Lee Blons, executive director of Beacon Interfaith Housing. “It’s about building community and about healing from trauma. Most of these men experienced trauma as children, then as adults.”

The building will have 40 single rooms with shared kitchens, bathrooms and common space, and there will be 32 efficiency apartments. All of the residents will participate in round-the-clock, on-site services aimed at helping them bridge the gap between prison and the real world.

The men will live there alone. Because so many of them are fathers, there will be a playground that aims to help reunite them with their children.

“It’s about building relationships with their children,” Blons said. “This will help them figure out what healthy relationships look like.”

Better Futures President and CEO Dr. Thomas Adams said that in Minnesota about 70 percent of the felons who have been released end up back in jail, giving the state one of the highest recidivism rates in the nation. Stable housing and a job are key toward disrupting the cycles of generational poverty, homelessness and unemployment that come with incarceration.

The Twin Cities has several supportive housing developments for women, women and children, individuals in sobriety or with mental health needs, but there are few options for men who have a criminal record.

The project is a first for Better Futures, which provides jobs to some of its participants in a deconstruction business and an appliance recycling company.

The organization also helps its clients with a broad range of job readiness skills, including how to write a résumé and do a job interview. Participants can also get a variety of skill certifications to operate forklifts, remove refrigerants and use hand and power tools.

“Our main goal is to build relationships with the participants and build a sense of community,” Adams said.

David Frank, president of the North Loop Neighborhood Association, said the group supports the project and the addition of more affordable housing at a time when the bulk of what’s being built in the area isn’t affordable.

“We list it [the need for more affordable housing] on our website, we added it to our small area plan, and we talk at every board meeting,” he said.

He said Beacon has made several presentations to the group’s land-use committee and has asked for neighborhood support for the development and their financing applications.

“We gave it gladly,” he said.

The Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, which includes about 80 congregations including Plymouth Congregational Church and Westminster Presbyterian Church, was recently able to secure full capital funding with low-income housing tax credit financing from Minnesota Housing and the city of Minneapolis.

The building will be located on a vacant site at 813 N. 5th St. near the Target Field transit station. The partnership already has control of the property, which is along the west edge of where some of the most intense development has already happened.

The program will cost about $1 million a year to operate and fundraising for those supportive services at Great River Landing is ongoing.

Rents will be based on the applicant’s income, and 40 of the units will receive project-based Section 8 subsidies, which stay with the building rather than the individual tenant after they have moved on.

Beacon hopes to land an additional 32 rent subsidies through the state’s Group Residential Housing (GRH) program.

Some of that funding could come from legislation crafted by Beacon and other housing advocates through its Unlocking Opportunities bill, which would create dedicated funding for programs and services to support those facing barriers to housing and job access after incarceration. That funding would be available to any nonprofit organization that might qualify, but Beacon is certainly expected to apply.

That program will resemble “The Homeless Youth Act,” which was also initiated by Beacon and now receives about $11 million in annual funding.

Beacon is still trying to close a $400,000 gap to fund the support services and needs to secure the remaining rent vouchers. But, with the bulk of its financing in place, the project is ready to go through the city’s entitlement process. Construction is expected to begin late next year.

“We have to feel confident that we will have resources to run a good building,” Blons said.

 

 

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