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With affordable housing tight in suburbs, new units open in Roseville

Sienna Green Phase II
MinnPost photo by Cynthia Boyd
Added to the affordable housing market is this 50-unit apartment building for families in Roseville.

In a market where rental housing is tight and affordable housing even more scarce, there’s good news for some families scrambling to make ends meet.

It comes in the form of a project called Sienna Green Phase II in Roseville: 50 affordable, two and three-bedroom apartments for families in a building so new that workers in neon vests were hard at it around the grounds at lunch time Monday, finishing off porches on the structure’s front façade, painting, watering new day lilies. 

Affordable housing is  “a never-ending need,’’ says Gina Ciganik, demonstrated in part by the fact there are only six or seven family apartments still unspoken for at Sienna Green and a tall stack of applications from families hoping to move in.

Some 125,000 Minnesotans are “one paycheck away” from losing their housing, says Ciganik, who is vice president of housing development for Aeon, the nonprofit that spearheaded this building project. Unemployment, underemployment and home mortgage foreclosures are among the reasons, she says.

Aeon is one of many organizations around the state dedicated to expanding the affordable housing market following one of the worst economic recessions in our history.

A report issued late last year by the Metropolitan Council showed local communities lagging far behind their goals to create both affordable owner-occupied and rental housing.

"The mortgage foreclosure crisis has devastated families and neighborhoods, and the number of homeless, especially families and children, continues to grow despite determined efforts to prevent and end homelessness," according to the Family Housing Fund in its 2011-13 strategic plan.

In the Twin Cities where the average rent for a two-bedroom apartment is about $950, people working minimum wage have to work three jobs to afford housing and to pay for other necessary costs of living, she says. She says that includes people working at retail businesses at entry-level wages, people able to find only part-time jobs and even entry-level teachers. Financial experts say no more than 30 percent of income should go toward housing costs and utilities.

In contrast, Sienna Green’s two bedroom apartments rent for $831 a month and their three-bedrooms for $961. Ciganik says that makes them affordable to households earning 60 percent or less of the area median income.

Grand opening

A grand opening event this week celebrated the cooperation of public and private sectors that made it possible. Figure in a city mayor, a couple of legislators, a commissioner from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, a U.S. Bank spokesman and Joshua Miller.

Miller, his wife Katherine and their three sons (ages 5 and under) are among the lucky ones. They become Sienna Green residents Aug. 1.

“This really fits our needs and our ability to pay,’’ Joshua Miller tells me, as well as the family’s desire to live in a diverse community. 

With a PhD so new the ink is barely dry, Miller is still looking for a full-time academic appointment. Meanwhile, he’s doing factory work part-time and teaching occasional theology courses at Augsburg College.

Sienna Green II is the second phase of a $12 million project organized by Aeon, an organization that raises and collates public and private money to buy and build properties to house people with low incomes.

In 2006 Aeon purchased five down-at-the-heels brick buildings then named Har Mar Apartments for $5 million and “recycled” them, gutting the interiors of 120 one-bedroom apartments some then thought better suited for the landfill, explains Ciganik. That complex became known as Sienna Green, Phase I.

I drove over to get a firsthand look and stopped to talk with Phase I resident Beverly Nash, out dumping her trash.  

“The apartments are a little small but everything’s brand new,’’ the 52-year old confided about her one-bedroom place. And though parking can be tight and she complained of a moldy smell in the basement, she says this is better than the last two places she lived, including a public housing building in downtown Minneapolis.

(In response to the “smell” comment, a spokeswoman for Sienna Green says there had been some drainage problems around the building following heavy rains this summer, but that has been repaired and a dehumidifier has been installed in the building basement.)

A Garden at Sienna Green
MinnPost photo by Cynthia BoydA garden at Sienna Green fronts a building of 1-bedroom units.

Good fit

Ciganik says Roseville seemed a good fit for a bank of affordable apartments, given its geographic location as a first tier suburb, amenities like a “great school system,’’ and public transportation as well as its abundance of service-sector jobs. 

“Folks need to be able to potentially walk to work or bus to work,’’ she says, adding she’s a Roseville resident too.

The housing community lies on a frontage road at Snelling Avenue North and Minnesota Highway 36, within view of the high-end Rosedale Center mall in a St. Paul suburb that U.S. Census data show an 8.5 percent poverty rate.

Add in the fact that the suburban city boasts some immigrant populations with big families and a scarcity of multi-bedroom apartment units, and the city is ripe for affordable housing.

Affordable housing options help keep Roseville “vibrant,’’ especially important in a community with a sizable number of service-sector workers, says Roseville City  Manager Bill Malinen. The city awarded $935,000 in Tax Increment Financing spread out over 27 years for the family housing.    

Over the past 26 years, Aeon has developed or built and now owns and operates more than 2,000 affordable apartments and town homes.  

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Comments (4)

If it's not walkable, it's not affordable

You are right that Sienna Green is within sight of Rosedale, but it is in fact impossible to walk there from the affordable apartments. There is no continuous sidewalk to Rosedale from Sienna Green, and because Rosedale and MnDOT have decided that it's more important for the middle and upper classes to have an easy drive than for people in poverty to have affordable transportation options, they've made it impossible to walk on the most important nearby arterial, Snelling Ave. So residents of Sienna Green face a 1 mile walk - a quarter of which is without sidewalks - across multiple blind curb cuts and freewayized Fairview Ave to get to that big job cluster they can see from their window.

The average Twin Cities household spends 22% of their income, or $14k a year on transportation costs as a direct result of transportation policy to make it impossible to get around without a car anywhere outside the central cities. I wonder if the officials who showed up at the grand opening to pat themselves on the back mentioned the heavy burden they lay on low-income households by forcing them to have a car.

A thought/question

Would your observations and concerns be addressed by the building of pedestrian bridges? If so, should this kind of provided "infrastructure" be worked into the funding whenever one of these affordable housing units are built in the kind of pedestrian "island" that Sienna Green appears to be?

Just a bit of mental pondering, but I'd be interested in your thoughts on it.

affordable housing in suburbs

It's very appalling to me that there has been a shortage of affordable housing in the twin city area for alot of years, but the only reason something is getting done to change that is because now its hitting the suburbs as well. It sickens me that poor people, especially single adults without minor children, have been struggling for years to make ends meet and keep a roof over their heads, but nothing has been done to change any of this until what has been deemed the middle class suburbs was hit hard with the recession. Its pretty sad that it took white people taking a loss is what has created a small amount of change. Unfortunately for people like me and hundreds of others like me change is still slow in coming. I am currently unemployed, have been for almost three years now. The job market has shown signs of growth, but if you dont have a car you cant get to them. There is no help with transportation to get to job interviews, and there is no cash assistance any longer with the county unless you have a medical condition that makes you unemployable for at least 30 days. For people like me, no children or those who are grown, there is no way out of the cycle unless you get very lucky. My boyfriend works through daily labor to keep us in our daily needs, but it is not enough to get an affordable and safe place to live. So please by all means help out the middle class, but Im tired of falling through the cracks of society because no one cares what happens to me and others like me because we dont have children or because they grew up. I am tired of hearing of all the help available to those who dont need the help when in reality they should have controlled their spending and for most thats the reason why they are where they are!!! Give the help where its truly needed the inner city single adults w/o families!!!!!! Change needs to happen stop bailing out those who dont deserve it and help those of us who have been falling by the wayside for years!!! We vote, and have opinions to, and Im tired of feeling like my voice isnt heard repeatedly!!!!!
By the way public housing and section 8 arent the answer either. There is a waiting list a mile long for section 8 and public housing wont accept you if you have a felony.

Unemployment Caused Loss of Our Home in Suburbs

It is the furthest thing, from the truth, to say that we spent our money foolishly. My husband, mainly, worked to pay the bills, and that was about all. He husband never received his education because he went into the service when he was 17, and, back in the day, when it wasn't understood, special needs children didn't receive the proper education to prepare them for employment. Due to those kinds of jobs, he could do, he has received injuries that keep him from doing anything physical. Needless to say, any work opportunities are rare for him. Nonetheless, he did have employment and was unfairly fired around two and a half years ago. Why? Because his new supervisor didn't like him from day one, and she looked for every opportunity to fire him. She finally found one, but, due to his medication, he got unemployment. What a joke? It was less than half of what he was making a month. Why aren't I working, you ask? That is, probably, because I couldn't find a job since I'm a senior citizen and hardly anyone wants to hire you if you aren't young these days. Oh. I can volunteer my time, but that doesn't pay the bills.

Ironically, we found out, recently, that supervisor was fired the same day my husband was.

I sold almost everything we had, of some value, to try to keep our home. Every effort made failed. By the time he finally got some kind of employment, it was too late. We were taken to court and the bank decided they want this place back and us out, even though we tried paying a partial payment in January, which they, promptly, sent back.

In the meantime, we have been served by the sheriff and informed when he or she comes again, we will have 20 minutes to get out. Plain and simple.

We have looked for a place to live without any success whatsoever. We've had people lie to us, telling us we could stay with them, only to turn their backs on us.

Am I angry? Doggone right I am. I worked most of my life to only receive a measly $178 a month! Work all your life, get that puny amount of income, and then tell me how you feel.

So when you say people, in the suburbs, spent their money wrong which is why we are becoming homeless and that we don't deserve help, look again. It is well known that most of we low income folks are not getting any help either. The funds are dried up. And, I'm sorry to say it, but it was used up by some of those who have no interest in furthering their lives or being a productive citizen.

Case and point. A friend of ours was given a glowing reference for a woman to rent his house. He agreed to let her pay on her deposit as time went on. She ended up moving in a friend, who claimed to have SSI coming in. Now there were numerous children and pets living there. In the whole time they lived in that house, they never paid more than a thousand dollars. This was a totally remodeled home, which was comfortable and attractive. It took him six months to get her out! In the meantime, he offered us to stay there until we could get our own housing. That didn't happen. Why? Because he couldn't get her, and her menagerie, out. When the sheriff got her out, she started screaming and carrying on claiming she had been paying rent. Then, of all nerve, she called the police on him! They asked her if she had proof. Of course, she didn't and then they escorted her off the property-telling her to not go back. She totally ignored that and broke the garage lock and a window. When he, finally, did get her out, it was to discover no one had ever cleaned the house the whole time they were there, and he had to keep their belongings for 28 days. So he reneged on his promise to us, decided to remodel it and sell it. Once again, we were put on the back burner because of someone else's behavior.

Landlords want us to make 3 times the rent, they want application fees, they want deposits. They want. They want. How about us? We have even looked into renting with other people. Did you know most people don't want a couple? We deserve help as much as the next person. And anyone, who, blindly, says we don't is dead wrong.

I know this is a long story, but I just want people to stop blaming us for our homes being repossessed and foreclosed on. We did not deserve what happened to us, and we do deserve a chance as much as anyone else. Now the people, who have felonies, we didn't do that to you. You did it to yourselves. Yet, there are plenty of programs out there for them. Are there any for us? Doggone few, especially if you're older and don't have kids.