In mid-2000, the block bounded by South 9th and 10th Streets, and 4th and 5th Avenues South was home to 800 homeless-shelter residents -- as many families as on eight single-family-home blocks in the city. "It was a hyper-concentration of poverty," according to councilmember Lisa Goodman (7th Ward).
A couple of weeks ago, it looked like the block's residential-poor population would plummet to zero. People Serving People, 410 S. 10th, will move their operation this spring to 251 Portland Ave. (see main story). Meanwhile, the Drake Hotel, 416 S. 10th, the other major shelter in 2000, closed in December.
The loss of so many poor people promised to bring major change to nearby Downtown businesses and the Elliot Park neighborhood, which is just east across 10th Street. Could this be the tipping point for long-delayed gentrification of the area? A new 340-unit high-rise/rowhouse project -- offering units in the $300,000 range -- is rising on the block south and east of the PSP/Drake block, and its developers, APEX Development, have talked with Goodman about redeveloping the PSP/Drake block.
As it turns out, the change won't be quite so stark, at least not yet. On Jan. 18, the Drake quietly reopened under new management. New property manager Tim Treiber said 25 of the Drake's 147 rooms were occupied. He noted, "There are no homeless in this building."
Treiber -- who leases the hotel from block owner Bob Short -- charges singles $100 for six nights' lodging, $150 for couples (tenants can only pay for hotel stays six days at a time, according to city ordinance, though they can re-up as often as they want to). That works out to $500-750 a month -- in the affordable-housing range. "I think the city could use something like this," Treiber said.
No county referrals Yes, Treiber added, Hennepin County once referred homeless families to the Drake, which has many large rooms to accommodate big family groups. However, a dramatic decline in families needing shelter is a reason his brother, John Treiber, stopped operating the hotel two months ago.
(The Drake has a checkered reputation; it was closed in the mid-'90s, then reopened by John Treiber's Lazarus Development. Lazarus was sued last year by a group of the Drake's Somali tenants, alleging discrimination. Tim Treiber said no money changed hands in the legal settlement. The hotel, considered more structurally sound than PSP's current facility, lacks air conditioning, unlike its neighbor.)
Hennepin County officials say Treiber should not expect referrals any time soon. "We don't need additional capacity at this point in time," said Pat Mack, a program manager in Hennepin County's Economic Assistance Dept. "We can't even fill the places we have contracts with. PSP has fallen [100 people] short of capacity."
Mack said that Hennepin County has changed many housing programs, providing more support, financial and social, to keep families in private and public affordable housing. Family shelter use -- which boomed in the late '90s as the demolition of affordable housing collided with surging demand generated by the booming Twin Cities economy -- has since reversed
That's a big reason PSP's new facility -- while more spacious and better-equipped than its current one -- will only hold the same number of people as the old one. Mack said if the family-homeless population explodes as it did in 1999, the county is confident that there are enough overflow hotels, like the Drake, that it doesn't make sense to keep the crumbling 410 10th St. space operating.
Neighborhood view So unless a new poverty-based organization inhabits PSP's current building, there will be at least 50 percent fewer poor people living on the block. Officials of Elliot Park Neighborhood, Inc. say they welcome the change -- though it's not as dramatic as one might expect.
"Let me put it this way -- the adverse effects have been on the perceptual level," said David Fields, an Elliot Park resident and the neighborhood group's coordinator of housing and development. "We really didn't notice any effect like crime because [the Drake and PSP] were there. Frankly, though, people see a lot of poor black people and families and associate that with crime."
Because of that prejudice, Fields said the exit of PSP makes Elliot Park an easier sell -- though the strong demand for affordable housing anywhere in the city has already had developers more interested. "All the calls you get from potential developers, they notice the wonderful old buildings here, but the first thing they ask about is the [poor and homeless] population -- even though that population hasn't caused any more problems."
Councilmember Goodman -- no fan of previous Drake management -- would like to see the hotel rehabbed, noting its still-impressive historical faade. An affordable-housing activist, she nevertheless hopes PSP's aquamarine '50s former home -- once a motor lodge -- "gets leveled into a parking lot."