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Agency gives $80M boost to affordable housing

The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency on Wednesday announced $79.9 million in new loans, tax credits and grants to build and preserve affordable housing across the state.

Minnesota Housing plans to contribute to 57 projects totaling more than $300 million in development costs. The money will help Minnesota developers purchase, refurbish or construct 1,831 units, many of which are along existing or planned transit lines and near job centers.

But the affordable housing funding this year pales in comparison to previous years, especially those when bonding bills were passed, which the Legislature did not do in its last session.

“While we certainly are cognizant of those good projects that got funded with $79.9 million, I’m just sick about the $90 million that was in the bonding bill that did not get passed,” Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday during a press conference to announce the awards.

Dayton had proposed an additional $90 million for housing in his bonding proposal, which would have helped construct, rehabilitate or maintain 3,500 more units around the state. In a bonding bill that narrowly failed to pass in the last minutes of the session earlier this year, the Minnesota House had included $45 million for affordable housing.

“I’ll come back next January and propose a bonding bill again, but it’s really a shame,” Dayton said.

In 2014, when the last bonding bill was passed, Minnesota Housing Finance Agency awarded more than $160 million for affordable housing, according to a press release from Minnesota Housing. Besides a bonding bill, the agency also finances projects through other state and federal resources as well as other state and regional funding partners.

This year the agency had requests for affordable housing funding from around the state totaling $233 million, Mary Tingerthal, commissioner for Minnesota Housing said Wednesday.

A list of this year’s investments was unveiled at Como by the Lake Apartments, a six-story, 99-unit affordable housing development in St. Paul that is one of this year’s award recipients.

Como by the Lake, at 901 Como Blvd E., is undergoing a nearly $15 million rehabilitation after being purchased earlier this year by the nonprofit developer Aeon. The project was awarded more than $2.55 million in financing by Minnesota Housing.

That funding places Aeon in a “good position to move forward,” with the project, Alan Arthur, president and CEO of the Minneapolis-based development company, said Wednesday in an interview after the announcement.

The project was one of four St. Paul developments awarded funding this year. About 30 projects and programs in the seven-county metro area received funding this year.

One of the largest financing awards this year — at more than $14 million – will go to the Great River Landing project in Minneapolis, which is sponsored by St. Paul-based Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative. The $18 million development will include 72 efficiency and one-bedroom units near Target Field Station in Minneapolis for people who have been chronically homeless or unemployed.

More than 120 new rental units along the Northstar Commuter Rail line between Big Lake and Minneapolis will also be supported through Minnesota Housing financing. Among those projects is the $16.8 million Riverdale Station Apartments project in Coon Rapids, sponsored by Minneapolis-based Sherman Associates.

The 69-unit mixed-income building will include apartments for those making between $30,000 and $46,000 annually. The development will be located adjacent to the Northstar Riverdale Station.

Nearly half of the applications set to receive funding from Minnesota Housing in the coming year are outside of the seven-county metro area.

In Cambridge, Minneapolis-based MetroPlains will receive $3.7 million for its Main Street Flats apartment project, a 28-unit workforce housing project for people with incomes below $47,000 a year.

Rochester-based Joseph Development will receive more than $1.1 million for its $12 million Valleyhigh Flats project in Rochester, a 60-unit development with supportive and workforce housing.

Commonbond Communities will receive one of the largest financing awards in greater Minnesota for its $12 million Dublin Crossing project in Mankato. The developer will build 50 mixed-income rental units, which will be affordable to people making between $31,000 and $48,000 annually. The project will receive more than $8.5 million in financing.

Even so, the prevailing message Wednesday was that the awards this year weren’t enough.

Arthur, of Aeon, told housing advocates Wednesday that “we need to all pitch in,” and urged state leaders to pass a bonding bill in the coming session.

“I believe we are heading into the greatest housing problem for poor people in our country since the early 1900s,” he said. “I think the convergence of market forces, social issues and politics is going to present us with the greatest problem we’ve seen for many, many, many decades.”

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