Affordable Innovation in the Twin Cities

Nice words about PPL from our friends at Yardi.

By  on June 10, 2013 for The Balance Sheet, Yardi’s Corporate Blog. 

Click here to see the original article

You may think you know what affordable housing looks like.

Until you’ve taken a look at the amazing variety of projects developed by Twin Cities non-profit Project for Pride in Living, you may be wrong.

PPL, serving lower-income families and individuals in Minneapolis and St. Paul for over four decades, has an impressive array of social services programming (we’ll feature these efforts in a forthcoming article) and affordable housing options that have improved lives for thousands of Minnesotans. With a current portfolio of 1,056 affordable housing units, since 1972 PPL has developed or renovated 2,000 housing units during its history. And great projects just keep on coming.

Recently we had the opportunity to speak with Chris Wilson, PPL’s Director of Housing and Development, about some of the interesting work that is in the development pipeline for PPL right now. Here are brief snapshots of each of the three projects he shared.

Project 1: Rising Cedar, supported living facility, in partnership with Touchstone Mental Health

Touchstone Mental Health’s clients are suffering with serious mental illnesses, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and severe depression. The Rising Cedar facility will be a supportive residential environment for 40 individuals, and also house Touchstone Mental Health’s offices and a public Health and Wellness Center focused on the treatment of mental illness. But Rising Cedar will be more than just a multi-use facility.

“The project we’re doing is an attempt to marry the latest findings in neuroscience with housing and what we are able to do with the build environment,” Wilson said. Before design of the structure began, Touchstone conducted extensive research into healing environments, and what kind of permanent indoor physical spaces might best benefit their clients. During the design process, potential future residents gave feedback to the PPL team about what features would or would not work for them.

Resulting features incorporated into the Rising Cedar design include natural light in every room of the project, even meeting rooms and hallways, constant access to natural surroundings through large windows, and spaces that can be transitioned from open-to-confined to meet residents’ health needs.

“They can adjust their environment to suit what they need at that moment,” Wilson said. Rising Cedar is located in Seward, with easy access to the city’s light rail.  Its’ Health and Wellness Center services will include psychiatric care, acupuncture, massage therapy, recreation space and other resources.

Project 2: Hamline Station, transit-oriented, potentially car free workforce housing

The harsh Midwestern winters might lead you to assume otherwise, but Minneapolis/St. Paul ranks as the city as the most bike-able city in the nation, according to Bike Score. Cycling’s prevalence here for commuters, coupled with the expansion of the city’s light rail system between downtown Minneapolis and downtown St. Paul, are leading to new opportunities to live a carless life in the Twin Cities.

The Hamline Station project will include 108 units of workforce and family housing in two buildings along University Ave, very close to the Hamline Station.

“You could pretty reasonably not have a car and live there, if you take the light rail to work. You could work in either downtown, too, because it’s about halfway in between,” Wilson said.

Adding to the potential for a car-free life, the project will feature a bicycle maintenance station and convenient bicycle storage in the underground parking area, there will be an HOURCAR car share vehicle stationed on site, and there is convenient walkable access to shopping, parks and schools. The neighborhood receives a 91 ranking from Walk Score, which equates to a “walkers’ paradise,” according to its standards.

The hope is to break ground on the new units in spring 2014.

Project 3: Hawthorne EcoVillage, redevelopment with an environmental edge

The Hawthorne EcoVillage is a long-term, ongoing project for PPL, partnering with the City of Minneapolis, the Family Housing Fund, the Hawthorne Neighborhood Council, Hennepin County, the Northside Home Fund, and Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, in North Minneapolis.

During a neighborhood redevelopment visioning process that took place more than a decade ago, residents identified a unique vision for four designated blocks of their community, which included many vacant, abandoned, and ill-kept properties.

“They didn’t want to be known as North Minneapolis, inner city, with all the connotations that come with that. They conceived an out front, eco-friendly concept that showed future-focused thinking,” Wilson said.

Since then, two eco-friendly homes have been constructed, two are underway, and two more have been rehabilitated. Habitat for Humanity bought into the concept and built six homes.

Energy bills for the homes are drastically lower than what they would be – all utilities, except water, price out around $38/month. That’s a big deal in a state with such drastic seasons, where air conditioning costs can add up in summer and heating bills skyrocket in winter.

Perhaps even more important than earth-friendly housing, though, has been a change in the tone for the surrounding neighborhood. Formerly ridden with drug dealing activity, crime is way down (arrests for drug dealing have dropped up to 85 percent) and residents feel safer about walking around outside their homes. In 2010, the project and the Minneapolis Police Department were awarded the MetLife Foundation Community-Police Partnership Neighborhood Revitalization Award.

“The crime rate plummeted, and has stayed down,” Wilson said. The residents say: ‘This is just night and day. I’m happy to walk out of my house now.’”

The EcoVillage will continue to grow. There are now plans for an apartment community that will be constructed with sustainable practices.

Yardi commends Project for Pride in Living, a Yardi client, for their exceptional efforts on behalf of their community.

 

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