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Livable Communities grants offer welcome boost to communities

The Metropolitan Council on Wednesday provided a welcome boost to area communities, approving $11.3 million in Livable Communities grants that will help them leverage new development and expand the supply of affordable housing.

The grants were awarded from two companion funds — the Livable Communities Demonstration Account (LCDA), which is designed to encourage efficient development and links housing, jobs and services, and the Local Housing Incentives Account, which seeks to expand the supply of affordable housing.

Guy Peterson
Metropolitan Council
Guy Peterson

They come at a critical time for cities, which have seen a dramatic reduction in development activity in recent years as a result of the recession. In 2010, communities in the region issued just 5,761 residential building permits, the third lowest total in four decades. Commercial development has been similarly stagnant.

Guy Peterson, the council's director of community development, said the grants will help cities "create and retain jobs and leverage millions of dollars in other public and private investment."

His staff estimated that the LCDA grants will create 2,100 new housing units, add 619 living-wage permanent jobs and leverage more than $360 million in public and private investment. The housing grants will help build or rehabilitate an additional 400 housing units.

Detail of the Schmidt's Brewery complex.
Metropolitan Council
Detail of the Schmidt's Brewery complex.

"Year after year, this program continues to be a success, helping communities perform extreme makeovers on outdated strip malls, for example, improving transit and pedestrian connections, supporting efforts to provide quality housing for working families, and helping to ensure the region maintains the quality of life that continues to attract quality employers," Peterson said.

Key grants
Twenty LCDA grants, totaling $9 million, were awarded to 13 communities, with Minneapolis, St. Paul, Apple Valley and Woodbury receiving multiple grants.

The grants include:

  • $1.25 million to the City of St. Paul to help purchase the Schmidt Brewery Brew House and transform it into 262 affordable apartments and townhomes. The project previously had received $1.8 million in council grants for site cleanup and street improvements.
  • More than $1.3 million for three mixed-use developments in Minneapolis that will provide 406 new housing units. They include the Emanuel Housing project at 822 S. Third St., which will provide apartments and services for very low-income individuals, many of them disabled and homeless.
  • $750,000 to the City of St. Paul to help fund a four-story, mixed-use development adjacent to the Central Corridor light-rail transit station at University and Hamline Avenues. The building will provide 124 units of rental housing with rents affordable to households at less than 60 percent of the area median income and will also include 13,700 square feet of commercial space.
  • $1.03 million to the City of Mahtomedi to develop 72 units of senior housing on the site of an abandoned restaurant and provide a key pedestrian link to connect downtown with area trails, transit and jobs. Grants also were awarded to Apple Valley, Rosemount, Watertown and Woodbury for projects that include senior housing.

The grants also include $100,000 to the City of St. Paul to help develop a zoning framework for the 122-acre site of the Ford Plant in the city's Highland Park neighborhood. That plant is scheduled to shut down next week after 86 years of production.

A total of 36 LCDA grant applications were received from area communities. They were evaluated with the help of a 13-member committee headed by Mary Hamann-Roland, mayor of Apple Valley.

Nine affordable housing grants totaling $2.3 million grants were approved from the council's Housing Housing Incentives Account. The grants will help six communities build or rehabilitate 382 affordable rental units and 25 affordable ownership units.

Three Minnesota agencies will provide $26.6 million to help build or rehabilitate 887 affordable rental units and 285 affordable ownership units.
Metropolitan Council
Three Minnesota agencies will provide $26.6 million to help build or rehabilitate 887 affordable rental units and 285 affordable ownership units.

One of a kind
The council's housing grants are awarded as part of a coordinated process with the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency and the Family Housing Fund, which also bring dollars to the table. All told, the three agencies will provide $26.6 million in grants to help build or rehabilitate 887 affordable rental units and 285 affordable ownership units.

The coordinated process, which helps the three agencies get the most from the region's available housing resources, "is the only one of its kind in the country," says Linda Milashuis of the council's housing staff. "Nationally, people come to us to ask about the process, how it works, how we are able to do this."

Under the 1995 Livable Communities Act, communities must negotiate long-term affordable and lifecycle housing goals with the Met Council  to be eligible to compete for  grants under three programs, the two mentioned above and one that helps fund the cleanup of contaminated sites. In 2011, 94 communities participated in the program.

From 1996 through 2010, the council awarded 633 grants totaling more than $212 million in Livable Communities funds. Of those, 68 awards have been relinquished, for a net of 565 grants totaling $181 million. The net results of these grants are expected to leverage billions of dollars in private and other public investments.

Related: Met Council to invest $26 million along transit corridors

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