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Statewide collaboration brings affordable housing to Phillips neighborhood

At a time when the need for affordable housing is increasing, there's some good news in the steel beams and foundation walls at East 24th Street and Park Avenue South in Minneapolis.

The buildings, going up in the Phillips neighborhood, will provide 48 units of affordable housing available by fall, as well as social services provided by Lutheran Social Service and others, and spiritual support offered by Messiah Lutheran Church.

Called the Center for Changing Lives, the $27 million project is a collaboration of private and public funding, including 21 churches across the state, the city of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, many foundations and others.

Project blends housing, social services, church
It will provide housing that will be "affordable as long as the bricks stand,'' Mark Peterson, Lutheran Social Service president and CEO, said Wednesday. Already $23 million has been raised to construct housing (one- to four-bedroom apartments), offices for social service agencies, the church and a neighborhood organization, a public gathering space and a Christian chapel.


A news conference Wednesday marked the beginning of a $4 million public capital campaign to raise the remaining construction funds.

Referring to the venture as a "new service model,'' Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin called the effort "the institutional manifestation of our Christian beliefs." Co-chair of the project's fundraising group, he said the effort will create a "center to help people change their own lives.''

There clearly is a need for more affordable housing. Statistics released by the Family Housing Fund in November 2006 showed the average two-bedroom apartment in Minneapolis renting for $930 a month — an amount not affordable for the 50 percent of Minnesota workers who earn less than $31,000 annually.

The most recent homelessness statistics — before the current home mortgage crisis— released by the Wilder Foundation in 2006 (PDF) found 9,200 people in Minnesota are homeless on any given night — similar or slightly less than the totals in 2003.

Services will provide support system for residents

The center will offer a range of services, available to the Park Avenue apartment residents, the neighborhood and beyond.  Services will include financial, housing, youth, mental health and employment counseling, a clothes closet, food pantry, adoption and pregnancy counseling, refugee aid and a fitness center.

"Housing and access to support services right on site will be instrumental in helping families develop long-term stability," McLaughlin said.

There is no religion requirement in receiving help, nor is there an obligation to attend church services, said the Rev. Lee Cunningham, pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church. "We're just going to be there to create caring, trusted relationships.''

Client Becky Hentges shared her personal story with about 100 people gathered for a project update.  "If it wasn't for Lutheran Social Service, I wouldn't be here today,'' she said. Four years ago, she said, she was eight months pregnant, homeless, dealing with drug addiction and staying in a homeless shelter. That's where she hooked up with Lutheran Social Service and asked for help.

With the agency's help, she found housing and sobriety and took parenting classes. A mentor helped her achieve other goals, including reuniting with an older child. Today, she said she's been employed four years and lives with her two daughters in Maple Grove.

"I'm really happy and really grateful for Lutheran Social Service. I couldn't have done it without them,'' Hentges said.

Housing application information will be released in May.

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