The Ramsey County Board approved almost $25 million for affordable housing in May, providing financial assistance for 18 new and existing apartment buildings. Many of the buildings are in Saint Paul, including several downtown and in Highland Park and Ramsey Hill.

“Ramsey County is leading the way nationally in investing in permanent infrastructure to address the housing crisis,” said commissioner Jim McDonough, chairman of the county’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA). “This bold investment will bring lasting results.”

Treehouse in Highland
A rough sketch of developer Trellis' plan for low-income senior housing in a new building on the bluff behind the Highland Chateau off West Seventh Street and Saint Paul Avenue.

Ramsey County needs about 15,000 more affordable housing units to meet demand, according to McDonough…. The money allocated will provide 1,393 affordable units, including 218 units “deeply” affordable to households making 30 percent of the area median income (AMI).

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Ramsey County needs about 15,000 more affordable housing units to meet demand, according to McDonough. The projects approved in May were chosen from 36 applications with a total cost of almost $56 million. The money allocated will provide 1,393 affordable units, including 218 units “deeply” affordable to households making 30 percent of the area median income (AMI). Ramsey County’s AMI is $67,238 per year. Thirty percent of that is $20,171.

The $25 million is drawn from federal American Rescue Plan funds, Community Development Block Grants and HOME Investment Partnerships funds along with an HRA levy and general obligation bonds.

One of the projects is Trellis’ Treehouse, a low-income senior housing project on the bluff behind Highland Chateau, 2319 W. Seventh St. The nonprofit developer is planning 36 apartments, 27 of which would be deeply affordable and others reserved for seniors who were recently homeless.

Trellis has also received low-income housing tax credits from the city of Saint Paul. Dan Walsh of Trellis said the developer hopes to close on the property in 30 to 60 days. The parcel will need to be rezoned from single-family to multifamily residential. It will also need a conditional use permit for excessive height and possibly a frontyard setback variance.

Other projects in the area served by MyVillager include developer Reuter Walton’s plan to transform the Gallery Professional Building at 17 W. Exchange St. from offices to affordable housing. A $1.5 million county allocation will be used to renovate the building and provide eight apartments at 30 percent AMI and 72 apartments at 50 percent AMI. The project is expected to begin in 2023 or 2024.

The county allocated almost $1.93 million to renovate RS Eden’s Ashland Apartments, a supportive housing facility at 532 Ashland Ave. Seventeen deeply affordable apartments are planned. The Saint Paul Planning Commission’s Zoning Committee on May 19 recommended approval of a conditional use permit for the project. The full Planning Coimmission will vote on the permit on May 27.

A third project is Mary Hall at 438 Dorothy Day Place. Nonprofit developer AEON plans to convert the six stories of single-room-occupancy apartments into 88 affordable housing units with support services for tenants. Forty-six units would be deeply affordable with the rest affordable to people at 50 percent AMI. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2023.

Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity was allocated $800,000 by the county to buy and renovate single-family homes in Saint Paul, White Bear Lake, White Bear Township and Maplewood. The homes will be sold to households with low and moderate incomes. Other Saint Paul projects are in the Hamline-Midway, Payne-Phalen, West Side, North End and Saint Anthony Park neighborhoods.

Ramsey County officials admitted that they have much to do to meet the demand for housing. The federal funds that were used to operate overnight and day shelters for homeless people during the COVID-19 pandemic has run out.

The Freedom House day shelter on West Seventh Street and the overnight shelter in the former Bethesda Hospital have closed. Shelters at Mary Hall in downtown and Luther Seminary in Saint Anthony Park are slated to close on June 22.

Bethesda residents have been moved to Union Gospel Mission and other supportive housing. Listening House, Freedom House’s parent organization, is expected to announce the opening of a new day shelter close to downtown soon.

As this issue went to press, Ramsey County officials were still hoping for an allocation from the 2022 Minnesota Legislature to keep housing services going.

— Jane McClure

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