City counts shelter beds as affordable housing

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November 24, 2003 // UPDATED 11:07 am - April 30, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

Critics say math is deceptive; long-term numbers less in question

The city appears on track to surpass its 2003 affordable housing goals with rooms to spare -- if you count a lot of emergency shelter beds as affordable housing.

The city's goal is to produce or preserve 650 affordable housing units this year, according to Mayor R.T. Rybak's city Web page. The city had produced 518 units by the end of the third quarter, or 80 percent of its goal. Plus, it has 1,161 units in the pipeline.

However, more than half of those completed units -- 288 of the 518 -- are emergency shelter beds funded through federal Emergency Shelter Grants.

That arithmetic doesn't sit well with some shelter providers, such as Allison Hoberg, men's shelter director for St. Stephens, 2201 Clinton Ave. S. The city counted St. Stephens' 35 beds toward the affordable housing goal.

"I would hope they are not including shelter beds as increasing affordable housing in Minneapolis," Hoberg said. "We are only allowed to be open overnight. There are no people here during the day. We are bunks and mats on the floor. I definitely wouldn't call that affordable housing."

Rybak touted the affordable housing data posted at at a recent meeting with City Council leaders.

"It is about transparency," a clear summary showing what the city has done compared to its promises, he said.

Asked later about counting shelter beds, Rybak referred further questions to Erik Takeshita, his point person on affordable housing.

Takeshita said the city had always counted shelters beds as affordable housing and called them "an important part of the housing continuum."

People have differing opinions on how to count affordable housing, he said. Some say the city shouldn't count housing rehabilitation, only new units produced.

"If people want it redefined, we are open to looking at it," Takeshita said. "We are not trying to hide anything."

One big shelter project skewed the numbers -- Secure Waiting, a Catholic Charities shelter Downtown at 1000 Currie Ave.

Secure Waiting is the single largest affordable housing project the city has completed this year: 251 units, according to city data, or 40 percent of the affordable housing goal.

Secure Waiting sleeps up to 125 on first-floor mats and 126 in a second-floor pay-as-you-go program. The upper floor has 63 bunk beds in a common room. People can stay up to four months, with some extensions given to people making progress towards independent living.

Secure Waiting received a $384,000 federal Emergency Shelter Grant, which paid for a laundry room, ceiling, window and electrical upgrades, accessibility improvements, new showers, bathroom remodeling, new lighting and more, according to housing staff at the city's Community Planning and Economic Development (CPED) department.

The report calls Secure Waiting's 251 beds "0-bedroom" units, the same category as efficiency apartments.

Catholic Charities administrator Tracy Berglund called the pay-as-you-go program "wildly successful" -- helping 165 men move into permanent housing. However, she added that it is not affordable housing "by any stretch of the imagination."

"There are three showers and 126 men," she said.

The city's 2003 affordable housing data also counted 20 units at the Sojourner Project, an emergency shelter for domestic violence victims. The shelter is located in a confidential suburban location, not in Minneapolis, but its clients include Minneapolis families. It received a $75,000 shelter grant for a security system, appliances, playground equipment and furniture, CPED staff said.

Those units meet 3 percent of the city's affordable housing goal.

St. Stephens Shelter received a $70,000 emergency shelter grant, CPED staff said. The money paid for improved fire protection systems, a new air exchanger, an egress window, fire resistant doors, new flooring and a new bathroom. That shelter's 35 beds made up 7 percent of the city's affordable housing goal.

This is not the first time the city of Minneapolis has counted shelter beds as affordable housing.

The City Council adopted an affordable housing resolution in 1999 and set a goal of creating or preserving 650 units in 2000. In a status report to the City Council in 2000, the Minneapolis Community Development Agency said it would create 525 affordable housing units that year.

Critics chided the numbers because they included 73 shelter beds, or 14 percent of the total.

In particular, the city counted 40 St. Stephens beds in 2000 --the same beds it counts again in its 2003 numbers. In 2000, the city gave St. Stephens a $70,000 shelter grant for fire code improvements.

The city has completed a dozen other affordable housing projects in 2003, according to the mayor's housing report. To count, units must be affordable to people making no more than 50 percent of Metro Median Income, or MMI (approximately $37,650 for a family of four). Those people must pay no more than 30 percent of their income toward housing.

Some completed affordable housing projects added new units; others preserved or stabilized existing affordable units (see chart).

In the pipeline The city has many affordable housing projects in the pipeline that will create or preserve 1,161 affordable units but will not be completed by the third quarter. Takeshita said that number includes relatively few shelter beds.

The new units are:

  • Heritage Park, Phase II, Aldrich Avenue North and 7th Street (57 units);
  • Lydia Apartments, 1920 LaSalle Ave. (40 units);
  • Franklin Gateway, 613 E. Franklin Ave. (36 units);
  • Philips Park Initiative, Phase IIc, 2438 Oakland Ave. S. (24 units);
  • Trinity Gateway, 2805 E. Lake St. (16 units); and
  • Lofts on Arts Avenue, 1817-29 3rd Ave. S. (seven units).

    The city also has several preservation projects in the works. The largest is Seward Towers, 2910 E. Franklin Ave., which will preserve 623 units.

    If the city did no other affordable housing projects in 2003, the Seward Towers project alone would meet more than 95 percent of its affordable housing goals.

    The city approved issuing up to $20 million in housing revenue bonds to allow nonprofit Seward Towers Corp. to refinance its debt and use the interest savings for needed building improvements.

    The only emergency shelter or transitional housing program on the "in process" list is Cabrini House, 1025 SE 6th St., which is getting a shelter grant to preserve 13 units.