New zoning regulations for faith-based institutions were approved on January 19 by the Saint Paul City Council, just days before a federal court deadline of February 1. The regulations provide clarity on how religious institutions can accommodate everything from day care centers to senior programs. They also provide consistency with the city’s new regulations on homeless shelters.

Project Home
The Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet's Provincial House at 1880 Randolph Ave., currently the site of Interfaith Action's Project Home, a shelter for homeless families seeking permanent housing.

More than 150 individuals and institutions submitted comments on the regulations at hearings or in writing. Widespread opposition to an early draft last fall prompted the city’s Planning Commission to rewrite the ordinance with many restrictions removed.

Roth said that as the COVID-19 pandemic dissipates, Project Home hopes to resume its collaboration with other faith-based groups to provide shelter for homeless families. “Even with our 100 beds (at Provincial House), there’s still a substantial wait list for family shelters in Ramsey County,” she said.

The latest draft elicited only a single comment at the public hearing. Randi Roth, executive director of Interfaith Action, objected to the 30-day limit for anyone staying in emergency housing at a faith-based institution. “Eighty-three days is our average stay,” Roth said, referring to the homeless families served at Interfaith Action’s Project Home shelter at the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet’s Provincial House, 1880 Randolph Ave. The City Council extended the maximum stay to 90 days, giving Project Home more time to move its clients into permanent housing.

Roth said that as the COVID-19 pandemic dissipates, Project Home hopes to resume its collaboration with other faith-based groups to provide shelter for homeless families. “Even with our 100 beds (at Provincial House), there’s still a substantial wait list for family shelters in Ramsey County,” she said. It is possible that some of the faith-based sites will agree to house families for more than 30 days, she added.

The new ordinance brings the city into compliance with a 2019 U.S. District Court order that was part of its settlement with Listening House, a drop-in day shelter for homeless people operated at First Lutheran Church in Dayton’s Bluff.

In its final draft, the ordinance does not regulate so-called accessory uses at faith-based institutions nor the space needed to accommodate them. That opens the door to multipurpose spaces used for events central to a faith-based organization’s mission and those open to the greater public.

— Jane McClure

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