At the Lowry Hill Ice Cream Social a couple weeks ago, my neighbors asked me what I think about the Peris development proposal by The John and Denise Graves Foundation for affordable youth housing. It’s tucked on an awkward, oddly shaped parcel between Colfax and Hennepin Avenue, right where the freeway exit dumps drivers out on Hennepin. It’s an unpleasant stretch of Hennepin to walk along, and a difficult place to drive to. In the 20 years I’ve lived two blocks away, the site has had a series of more and less successful restaurants, spending years vacant between tenants.
Speaking as a neighbor, I like the proposal.
Housing is more stable and predictable than restaurants, and in my opinion, a better neighbor. While I love having The Lowry restaurant across the street from my home, I’m no fan of the 5:40am delivery that reverses into their loading dock, waking me with loud reverse-beeping every morning, or the sometimes-raucous patio guests at 1am on weekends. And the renters living in the apartment buildings up and down my block don’t fill my yard with abandoned wrappers the way my beloved neighbor Sebastian Joe’s does.
The proposed building will make that stretch of Hennepin a more interesting place to walk, too. It would put some commercial space where there’s now a tiny cut-through parking lot. Eliminating the parking lot and curb cut funneling cars onto Hennepin makes walking safer and traffic more predictable. Plus, adding street-front retail that opens onto Hennepin will be more pleasant to walk past and give the street a bit of human life. In such a busy spot, which many people would prefer not to live on, I even wonder whether a slightly taller building could provide even more affordable housing, while also buffering the neighbors to the west, on Colfax Ave, from the hubbub of Hennepin.
Speaking as a progressive concerned about rising rents and homelessness and supporting the most vulnerable people in our community, I think the proposal is fantastic.
Building more housing is one key to taming the rapidly rising rents we face in Minneapolis. With Minneapolis’ population growth, professionals with higher incomes and downsizing retirees are bidding up home prices and rents. While we are currently building more than we have in decades, we still have catching up to do in order to welcome new neighbors, while also ensuring that long-time neighbors can afford to stay. Even though rent inflation is slowing, rents have risen so much already that we need rent decreases (like Portland has seen) for renters to catch up. While no single building is going to get us there, we need every new apartment we can get.
One reason Lowry Hill has retained high property values for more than a century is that it has wonderful amenities. There’s some of the best transit in the Twin Cities, including easy bus access to schools and jobs in Downtown and southwest Minneapolis, the U of M, St. Louis Park, Edina, and more. There are essential destinations to walk and bike to, from grocery stores to doctors; and places to get away for recreation, whether that’s the Walker, our quiet neighborhood parks, or the Chain of Lakes. It makes sense to give more people access to these investments we’ve made in our City.
It’s important to note that Lowry Hill doesn’t have it’s fair share of subsidized affordable housing. This is in no small part because land values in this part of Minneapolis make it very difficult to develop on the limited budgets required by affordable housing funders. This project is a rare opportunity to reverse the trend, and make good on our promise that “all are welcome.”
Finally, the young people who would call this building home are some of the most vulnerable and least supported people in our community — youth aging out of the foster care system. If we as a community are serious about supporting kids who have been forced to live away from their families because of family tragedy, abuse, or neglect, we need to welcome them in the neighborhoods that offer the greatest opportunities for their futures, in the very places they’ve said they want to live, including this site on Hennepin Avenue.
I had the privilege of being able to choose my neighborhood 20 years ago; I chose Lowry Hill because it has great transit, access to education and jobs, and basic resources like grocery stores and pharmacies within walking distance. Living a frugal lifestyle was important to me, so I was able to save a lot of money by not buying a car. My neighborhood gave me that gift, and so much more.
But the opportunities I had as a young adult are increasingly out of reach. For some in our city, like the young people who would live in this new building on Hennepin Avenue, choices are severely limited. They’re eager for the opportunity to live here, and I’m eager to welcome them to the neighborhood.