Questions about the equitable distribution of affordable and supportive housing prompted
the Saint Paul Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) on July 26 to postpone action on three projects at the Highland Bridge development in Highland Park. Tabled were variance requests for a two-story medical office building at 2270 Ford Pkwy., 60 units of supportive housing for Emma Norton Services at 801 Mount Curve Blvd., and 75 units of affordable housing at Project for Pride in Living’s (PPL’s) Nellie Francis Court building at 2285 Hillcrest Ave.
BZA members Diane Trout-Oertel and Luis Rangel Morales asked if master developer Ryan Companies was concentrating too much of Highland Bridge’s affordable housing in one area. They cited Emma Norton Services, Nellie Francis Court as well as CommonBond Communities’ 60-unit housing project for low-income seniors at Cretin and Bohland avenues.
“Are there other projects proposed throughout the site to provide affordable housing?” asked Trout-Oertel. She said the BZA needs to see how affordable housing is distributed throughout the site before she is comfortable voting on the two pending housing projects.
Located on the 122-acre site of the former Ford Motor Company assembly plant, Highland Bridge will have about 3,800 housing units when it is fully redeveloped. The city’s master plan for the Ford site requires that 20 percent of the housing units be affordable, including rental and owner-occupied options. That means that approximately 380 housing units must be affordable to households earning 30 percent or less of the Twin Cities area’s median income (AMI) and another 380 units must be affordable to households earning 60 percent or less of AMI. The Twin Cities AMI is $73,430 for an individual and $104,900 for a family of four.
Where and when affordable housing is built
City officials and Ryan Companies presented plans that illustrate the dispersal of Highland Bridge’s affordable housing throughout the site (see map above). Maureen Michalski, who heads up Ryan’s development team, said there are two factors that affect where and when affordable housing is built. The development of Highland Bridge is being carried out north to south, she said, and it can take a few years to pull together the financing for affordable projects.
Michalski and PPL project manager Malika Billingslea explained that affordable housing requires grants and low-income housing tax credits. The city has also established a tax increment financing district to assist in the construction of the Emma Norton and Nellie Francis Court buildings.
Three projects on the north edge of Ford site
The Emma Norton building is for women earning 30 percent or less of AMI. Supportive housing facilities at Highland Bridge have a maximum capacity of 16 residents. Emma Norton’s building would house up to 64 residents, requiring a 48-person variance.
At Nellie Francis Court, about 20 percent of the units will be affordable to families earning 50 percent or less of AMI and the rest will be affordable to households earning 60 percent or less of AMI. The CommonBond building will have 60 housing units that are affordable to seniors earning 30 percent or less AMI. The three projects total 195 of Highland Bridge’s 760 affordable units.
PPL is developing both its own and the Emma Norton Services building along with an underground parking garage for both buildings. Having PPL working on both projects was viewed as being more efficient, Michalski said, and according to her and Billingslea, there was no intent to concentrate low-income housing in one spot.
Rangel Morales praised PPL for its work, but said the way the affordable housing is rolling out has put the BZA in a tight spot. Action on the three projects’ variance requests will not happen until the affordable housing issue is addressed, he said.
— Jane McClure
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