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Minneapolis church gives up land for a greater good: ‘workforce housing’

Workers finishing up construction of Creekside Commons at 54th Street and Stevens Avenue in Minneapolis.
Courtesy of Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation
Workers finishing up construction of Creekside Commons at 54th Street and Stevens Avenue in Minneapolis.

It wouldn’t be happening had it not been for the donation of about an acre of land right there along Interstate 35W in the well-off Tangletown neighborhood of southwest Minneapolis.

By that I mean the construction of Creekside Commons, a 30-unit apartment building with space for kids to grow and learn and their families to prosper in a nice residential area of town. All designed for those who work and pay taxes but can’t afford market-rate rents.

Often known as “the working poor,’’ they’re interpreters, community service workers, bank employees and cab drivers, just like the first 11 families to move in, along with their 25 children.

Some call it affordable housing, while others describe it differently. “It is workforce housing” for working families “priced out of the market for decent housing,’’ explained Lee Blons, executive director of the Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation, which is neither a church nor a foundation but rather a non-profit that has been building affordable housing for homeless and impoverished people for a decade.  (Yet it is “born” of Plymouth Church, says Blons.)

The need is great. There were 200 people on the waiting list when they stopped taking names, followed by probably another 200 calls from folks hoping for an apartment at Creekside.

A single mom working at minimum wage would have to work 95 hours a week to afford the average two-bedroom apartment in the Twin Cities, Blons said. Or, possible had to make do with substandard housing. 

The grand-opening of Creekside is being celebrated  today at the building at 54th Street and Stevens Avenue with popcorn and ice cream and back-patting and thank-yous. More on that below.

First, there’s the story of that donation of a $600,000 plot of land and the church that gave it.

Volunteers work on the grounds of Creekside Commons.
Courtesy of Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation
Volunteers work on the grounds of Creekside Commons.

“It would not have happened were it not for the generosity of this congregation, to give a nice piece of urban land with great transit opportunities in the heart of the city’’ for working families, said the Rev. Sarah Campbell of Mayflower Community Congregational, U.C.C. Church.

It was this 700-member church that gave up parking lot space in a heavily-built up area of town for what they saw as a greater good. “People are looking for more justice and so willing to do with less parking,’’ Campbell said.

“We studied a lot to get to this,’’ the pastor said. Members were inspired by Barbara Ehrenreich’s book “Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America,” a first person account of living as the working-poor do. “That combined with our faith and scripture said it all,’’ explained Campbell.

She said that from their study Mayflower members learned that workforce housing doesn’t increase crime, “that it does the opposite,’’ and that economically healthy cities are diverse and plentiful with job opportunities and good housing. The church also welcomes Creekside children to its Early Childhood Center.

Mayflower turned to the Plymouth foundation to partner with on the project. 

Mayflower congregants as well as members of about a dozen other churches also attended neighborhood and city government meetings advocating the project, mustering support for a change in zoning. Many congregations contributed almost $50,000 to build a playground at Creekside and a computer resource room.

The Rev. Sarah Campbell of Mayflower Community Congregational, U.C.C., leads church members in celebration of the completion of Creekside Commons.
Courtesy of Plymouth Church Neighborhood Foundation
The Rev. Sarah Campbell of Mayflower Community Congregational, U.C.C., leads church members in celebration of the completion of Creekside Commons.

Blons describes the $8.3 million Creekside project as quality housing built to community green standards, with underground parking. Apartments run from one to four-bedrooms, with monthly rents ranging from $550 to $950. The units feature large, light-filled rooms. Twenty percent of the units have a rent subsidy, allowing very low income families to live there.

A family of four can have an annual income of $42,000 with a family of eight earning $53,000. Filling the units is a continuing effort.

Construction funding included money and tax credits from state and federal sources.

Another potential wrench in the construction project last winter was the economy, which almost quashed the project. Funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act enabled construction.

“We were pretty much that shovel-ready project,’’ Blons said. The project created almost 100 jobs, employing 60 people at a time, many of whom had been laid off for more than a year, according to the website.

Last winter a woman attending a church meeting stopped to thank construction workers for their efforts, but he replied, “You have given us jobs.’’

Grand Opening Celebration: Sept. 23, 3:30 p.m. to 5:30 p.m., Creekside Commons, 54th Street and Stevens Avenue, Minneapolis. The event is open to the public.

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Sheila Ehrich on 09/23/2010 - 12:37 pm.

    It takes a community to build a community.

    God bless the many people who used their time and talents to lead and to advocate for this project. They truly know what being a servant for Christ is.

    And thank you Ms. Boyd for such an uplifting article and to MinnPost for seeking out stories such as this.

  2. Submitted by dan buechler on 09/23/2010 - 03:09 pm.

    Land costs are very high and often the barrier to housing. There probably was some controversy also but thanks for the article.

  3. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 09/23/2010 - 07:13 pm.

    I believe there was a bit of controversy, but the results are well worth the hassles suffered and the hard work put forth by the members of Mayflower (and many others).

    I can’t help but contrast this with the Catholic Church in Minnesota sending out thousands of DVDs seeking to force the state government to act to prohibit gay marriages and wondering which of these two religious organizations are living and working in ways which reflect the life, ministry and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth (who, although they surely existed in Judea at the time, wasn’t worried enough about them to mention gay people at all).

    Of course Mayflower is also an “Open and Affirming” church (the United Church of Christ’s special designation for churches which seek to be open to and affirming of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Christians).

    It’s nice to see Christians living up to the Gospels. I wish more of those of us who claim the name of Christ, especially those who do so most loudly, would do likewise.

  4. Submitted by Mark Grand on 09/23/2010 - 09:15 pm.

    Minneapolis church forces its will on surrounding neighborhood.

    This project has little support from neighbors, and none from the adjacent apartment buildings which are struggling with vacancies. How ironic, an economic crisis caused by overbuilding…and now it consequences,“solved” by more building.

  5. Submitted by Tim Brausen on 09/23/2010 - 10:14 pm.

    Faith leaders led their community, and then our government funded the building! What a miraculous thing: people acting out their religious beliefs and our federal government building opportunity in our communities!

    This is a great example of the fine things that could be done in our communities if we weren’t spending our federal dollars “defending” the world, to the tune of a trillion dollars a year. When will we start spending the money on us, our children, our schools, or communities, instead of bombs, guns, and fear?

  6. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 09/23/2010 - 10:44 pm.

    Gee, I wonder why apartment vacancy rates are high? I don’t suppose it could have anything to do with high unemployment rates and with the reality that fewer and fewer people can find full time jobs with decent wages and benefits could it?

    Could it be that this new building is designed to help people afford decent housing… people who otherwise would STILL not be able to afford to rent any of the other vacant apartments in the surrounding area?

    I suppose we could just relegate those people to homeless shelters. That would be the “Christian” thing to do, wouldn’t it? “Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?”

    Oh, that’s right! The homeless shelters are all full to overflowing, too… and winter isn’t even here, yet!

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