In 2003, protesters appeared outside of Plymouth Congregational Church every day for an entire calendar year. Their demand – blocking an affordable housing project that the Church’s foundation was attempting to build down the street. 

They didn’t only loudly complain – the case even made its way to federal court. Neighborhood organizations came together to fight the project, including the Whittier Alliance, which allowed people to make tax-free donations to the lawsuit to block their new neighbors from ever moving in. Eventually, the project was approved, and the Lydia Apartments were born.

When the Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative team that developed and owns Lydia began their efforts to double the total number of supportive housing units from 40 to 80, everything was different. This time around, there were no protests. Many of the same neighborhood groups that led the opposition last time were outwardly supportive. 

A sample unit in the newly-constructed building (photo courtesy Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative)

Was that a result of the project’s success in bringing in new neighbors that have added to the fabric of the neighborhood, changing attitudes in the city writ large, or something else? “It’s both. We have changing demographics in Minneapolis as we have diversified – that’s meant more empathy across the community,” said Lee Blons, CEO/President of Beacon. “We also promised well-maintained, well-managed housing, and we delivered.” 

As a result, 40 more people that are exiting homelessness, some of whom are in recovery, will have a home in the city. 10 people had already moved in by the opening last week, with the remaining residents expected by the end of October. In addition to the new units, the existing 40 units were revamped. Avivo, an organization that provides services to help end homelessness, will partner with Beacon to provide supportive services for residents. “From the beginning, we’ve been committed to linking quality affordable housing with onsite support services so residents have every opportunity to thrive,” said Blons. 

The new apartments will be “deeply affordable”, which in this case means they’ll be reserved for people that make 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI), a measure of housing affordability that developers and policymakers use to guide their affordability requirements and metrics. That works out to close to $35,000 per year for a family of four.

The project will cost roughly $16 million in total. The total cost works out to around $203,000 per unit, although that number is a bit tough to compare to other projects as half of those units are revamped existing units instead of new ones.

The project brought together several public entities, including the state, county, and city governments, non-profits, and a variety of private companies. Around 32% of the funding will be provided by private equity tax credit syndication proceeds, 26% by the state’s Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, 15% by the City of Minneapolis, 4.5% from Hennepin County, and the remainder from private contributions, the assumption of existing debt, and a small bank loan. 

Blons went out of her way to single out three elected officials she said were a crucial part of making the project happen: Councilmember Lisa Goodman, Mayor Jacob Frey, and Hennepin County Commissioner Marion Greene. Frey and Greene spoke, while Goodman was across town at City Hall, presiding over a hearing that featured protests from advocates for unhoused individuals and residents of an encampment that had been cleared days before.

“We have totally shifted the way we prioritize these things in our budget,” said Mayor Frey, who added that the city has worked to continuously expand its affordable housing budget, especially focusing on deeply affordable housing, and lowered the percentage of the AMI that people can make to live in some of the new developments that receive city funding.

“The private market can’t support this need on its own,” said Commissioner Greene. “For our neighbors experiencing homelessness, we need more options.”

It’s hard to overstate what a positive development it would be if projects like these were no longer seen as controversial at the neighborhood level. Since opening its doors, the Lydia Apartments have been home to 220 people. That’s 220 lives that have been transformed by having a place to call home, and 220 people that may have had to live on the streets without this option. 

Ray Perry, a long-term resident that now helps provide security for the building, talked about what the community and the building has meant to him. His final message was very simple: “We need more homes like this.”