Paige Hall resident Robin Hassell celebrated renovations to her building and nine other apartments owned by affordable housing developer Aeon.

Affordable housing developer completes major fixer-upper

Aeon renovates 10 of its downtown Minneapolis apartment buildings

Charles and Robin Hassell, residents of Paige Hall, were once at a crossroads, and their lives, like the lives of many under local affordable housing developer Aeon’s roofs, could have looked much differently.

“Aeon gives [people like us] a fresh start, a second chance at life,” Robin Hassell said with tears in her eyes.

The Hassells were among those celebrating June 8 as a $56-million renovation of 10 Aeon-owned downtown apartment buildings came to a close in less than a year. Through the Minneapolis Portfolio Preservation Project, also known as MP3, the nonprofit renovated more than 580 units reserved for low-income residents, including the Hassells’ apartment in Paige Hall.

The improvements included enhanced energy efficiency, security upgrades and repairs to the buildings’ mechanical systems. Renovation work also included new windows, heating systems and plumbing fixtures, roof repairs and updates to kitchens, bathrooms and flooring.

It was a fixer-upper project, but on a massive scale.

“Good owners, like us, work hard to recapitalize every fifteen to twenty years,” said Aeon President and CEO Alan Arthur. “How do we put money into a project and still keep rent affordable? That’s the ticket.”

Vice President of Housing Development James Lehnhoff said Aeon created the MP3 for three reasons: to improve quality of living for the residents, and to benefit the neighborhood and the city.

“At the end of the day, we do this work because it’s somebody’s home,” Lehnhoff said. “I could just throw up a building, but what makes it a home — a place that is updated, feels secure and is stable — is what we are trying to get to.”


Opportunity, affordability and involvement

Now celebrating its 30th anniversary, Aeon’s mission is to create and sustain quality affordable homes that strengthen lives and communities. Aeon serves more than 4,500 people annually in the Twin Cities area.

With homelessness such a close reality to many in the metro area, affordable housing is an urgent need. Each day, more than 14,000 Minnesotans experience homelessness.

“From Aeon’s perspective, our goal is to provide the opportunity for a home, and in this case being deeply affordable,” Lehnhoff said.

The Hassells learned about Aeon through a social worker. They had been living with friends for some time and needed a place to call home together. They moved into Paige Hall apartments over five years ago.

During those five years, the Hassells have been involved in cookouts, holiday events, a food shelf and kids’ club events through Paige Hall. The activities have helped the Hassells feel a sense of community

There is another event that is close to Hassell’s heart: Hope for Today, a once-a-month gathering sponsored by volunteers in the community who share a meal with the residents in Paige Hall and give kind words of encouragement.

“It gives us hope for tomorrow,” Hassell said. “They are really neat, and we appreciate them so much.

“We showed them our appreciation in April, (when) we cooked for them,” she added. “They really appreciated it. We shared with them how their words of encouragement lifted us and brought us together as a community.”


Partnership in creating homes

Just like finding Aeon five years ago changed the Hassell’s lives, this renovation “has made our quality of life better, and made Paige Hall feel more like home,” Hassell said during the remarks on June 8.

“I’m grateful to Minneapolis and all of the citizens of Minneapolis who support this kind of work, who understand that just because they have a home doesn’t mean that they can’t be part of making home possible for other people too,” Arthur said.

It took a lot of community involvement to make this milestone happen. Frerichs Construction completed the entire project in less than a year, working only during business hours so the residents wouldn’t have to leave their homes for even one day.