• Center for Community Change

Showcasing Success: Minnesota Housing Partnership Highlights Affordable Housing Community

Minnesota-AdvocacySkMinnesota Housing Partnership (MHP) launched the Impact Spotlight in 2012 to celebrate the people and partnerships behind the outstanding affordable housing and community development work in Minnesota and across the nation. http://www.mhponline.org/impact/2014-15-features/urban-homeworks

Each year the Spotlight highlights successful endeavors which provide affordable homes and sustain community. The Spotlight is unique in that it not only describes the valuable outcomes, but provides sufficient detail to understand the creativity, collaboration, and commitment it takes to complete successful projects.

The most recent Spotlight features Urban Homeworks (UHW) in Minneapolis and their creative approach to reclaiming Minneapolis neighborhoods and building opportunity for all residents.  Chad Schwitters, the Executive Director of Homeworks, has a waiting list of more than 400 families who need safe affordable homes.  He notes: “I think we’re starving for innovative and creative solutions—ones that excite and compel people to get behind.  The more we can work together to frame those solutions and get people to get behind them, the closer we are to a healthier community for all.”

The Spotlight highlights three key factors that drive Urban Homeworks’ success:

  • People oriented development: at the foundation of Urban Homeworks’ mission is a commitment to people oriented development—putting people first.  The idea behind the POD model is to develop community through the physical development of actual neighborhoods and psychologically through the natural relationships that develop among neighbors.  The average stay for families in UHW homes is three years, meaning they have time to build connectivity, kids find stability, and parents can move their careers forward.
  • Creative finance: Urban Homeworks has developed a robust loan pool structure which draws from large donor bases established throughout various congregations and corporations.  The loan pool is a social investment opportunity allowing investors to purchase interest in a single asset LLC, earn a reasonable rate of return, and their dollars go directly to building the community.  Chad comments: “If you can open an E-trade account and put your excess capital on Wall Street in 20 minutes, then you should be able to open a community equity trust account on our website and put your excess capital on West Broadway and Lake Street in 20 minutes.”   Another central part of the financial strategy is the acquisition process, which hinges on the UHW’s ability to negotiate sales directly with landlords who already own parcels of assets in the community, acting quickly when properties become available, and maintaining relationships in the neighborhood and with local government.
  • Building together: Urban Homeworks considers itself as one tool in the tool-belt.  To illustrate the level of partnership UHW engages in, the Spotlight highlights Lovell Square—the UHW development of ten properties in north Minneapolis. Members of Christ Presbyterian Church raised $50,000 for the project … which spurred numerous partners and investors.  A large base of community advocates and committed volunteers also backed the development.  Chad notes:  “Many of the volunteers contribute labor and leave with a new perspective that influences their understanding of the ‘urban poor’ and how they can play a part in breaking down barriers they have (intentionally or unintentionally) been a part of creating.”  Lovell Square also served as training ground for UHW’s construction training program, which utilizes the construction sites as classrooms where trainees build skills and rebuild their own neighborhoods while working to obtain their GEDs.  Work that couldn’t be carried out by volunteers and trainees was contracted out to local minority and women-owned contractors and subcontractors.  Eighty-six percent of the redevelopment costs from the development went to local contractors, which, in turn, helped build local businesses and strengthen the local economy.

Each Impact Spotlight shares similar highlights building a broad understanding and respect for maintaining and investing in the people who develop and the communities who benefit from affordable homes.  MHP is proud to support those highlighted in the Spotlight who participate in and benefit from MHP’s work in policy and capacity building.

Mary Brooks, Senior Advisor, Center for Community Change–Housing Trust Fund Project