Winning the affordable housing lottery

Park Avenue apartments
Photo courtesy of Lutheran Social Services
More than 1,000 applications were received for 48 affordable units in the Park Avenue complex.

This will come as no surprise: The Twin Cities area is in a crisis when it comes to affordable housing. The fact is that there has never been a time when all the residents in our fair cities have been affordably housed. And the aggravated economy means the situation will only get worse.

To wit: Two years ago, before the foreclosure meltdown was in full swing, the Metropolitan Council projected that an expected 64,100 new low-income residents will come to the Twin Cities over the next decade (2011-2020), all needing somewhere to live. The problem is the Met Council also projected that only a small fraction (25,800 units) will become affordable during that time (and of that total, only 5,600 will be new construction).

The future’s bleak, indeed. That’s why it can sometimes pay to seize the day and play the lottery. The housing lottery, that is.

Leanna White heads up one of 48 households chosen by lottery to “win” an affordable apartment in Minneapolis. Over the weekend, White and her two teenage sons moved into their three-bedroom, two-bathroom unit on Park Avenue. She’ll pay $868 a month, utilities included.

“I feel pretty lucky,” says White. “It’s brand new. It’s cheaper, and actually affordable.”

White works full time as a receptionist in Eagan making $12 an hour with no benefits. She currently lives in a $1,100 a month, five-bedroom house in St. Paul. Not only is the rent a stretch, tack on high commuting costs, and big utility bills, and that adds up to unaffordable.

“There’s never any extra money at all living there,” says White. “It becomes stressful. If there’s stuff the kids need, do I get it or pay a bill?”

Foreclosure crisis forces lottery
The cheaper house White lived in before this one was foreclosed and she had to move out. In fact, the foreclosure crisis is a driving factor in why the builders, Lutheran Social Services, had to have a lottery. They were overwhelmed by more than 1,000 applications for just 48 units.

“Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised,” says Lutheran Social Services President and CEO Mark Peterson. “But it is a signal for the need for affordable housing in the state.”

Peterson is proud of the affordable housing units LSS has built with private and public money — completing financing literally months before buyers dried up for the mortgage bond market. But he really gets energized talking about The Center for Changing Lives — a big building attached to the housing units that will provide services to low-income residents and the surrounding community.

The Center for Changing Lives
Photo courtesy of Lutheran Social Services
The Center for Changing Lives, attached to the apartment complex, will house debt-management and housing counseling, wellness services, after-school and summer programs for kids, a food pantry and clothes closet.

A ‘seven-layer cake’ of sorts
“It’s the first time we’ve done anything like this,” says Peterson. “It’s a combination of church and state, nonprofit and government. … It’s a seven-layer cake. Although I never made one, I understand they’re difficult to put together and stand up straight.”

The Center for Changing Lives will house debt-management and housing counseling, wellness services, after-school and summer programs for kids, a food pantry and clothes closet. The center also includes Muslim prayer rooms and Lutheran worship services.

“So we put together service partners to build a whole enterprise to respond to the needs of families to be successful and secure,” explains Peterson.

The $27 million project will set aside 10 of the 48 units exclusively for long-term homeless families.

While families are moving into their new homes this month at the swankily named Park Avenue Apartments, the Center for Changing Lives is scheduled to open its doors in November.

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Comments (1)

  1. Submitted by Dan Hoxworth on 09/29/2008 - 11:57 am.

    Wonderful story! It clearly points out an opportunity to invest$700 billion to create employment in the depressed construction industry nationwide by closing this affordable housing gap. Why don’t these matters have the same importance as a bailout of investment firms on Wall Street and foreign governments. Money talks and the people walk!

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