We Must Foster Opportunity on Hennepin Avenue

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.  

Peris Housing (Image courtesy of The John and Denise Graves Foundation.)


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.

Places with higher housing construction growth rates have lower housing costs.

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.

Dots indicate properties subject to rent limits, orange dots indicate available housing with rent limits. (Source http://www.apartmentfinder.com/q/?cd=r_4u6rmk8Kxurk9S&sp=32)

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.

About Janne Flisrand

Janne Flisrand spends her time thinking about how people interact with the space around them. Why do they (or don't they) walk or bike or shop somewhere? How do spaces feel? Why do people sit here and not there? Why bus instead of bike, bike instead of drive? What sorts of spaces build community, and what sorts kill it? Can spaces build civic trust and engagement?

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7 thoughts on “We Must Foster Opportunity on Hennepin Avenue

  1. Julia

    Thank you so much for writing this! I grew up in Lowry Hill and I’ve watched its relative decline (in terms of transit access, income diversity, and peopled-ness) over the past three decades, despite its enviable proximity to so many destinations, jobs, and amenities. I still live nearby, walking past this particular parcel many times a week at all hours. The proposed development is the kind of thing that Lowry Hill desperately needs, wherever and whenever possible. You’ve done a great job articulating many of the reasons I support this project.

    I remember a Lowry Hill with busses down Douglas at least every half hour, where large houses were often duplexes or triplexes, offering homes for renters and homeowners alike. It’s always been an area of concentrated wealth and whiteness in the scope of Minneapolis as a whole, but in my lifetime it’s become significantly and dangerously more homogeneous, with housing density and diversity pushed to its most polluted corridors.

    I never made a choice to live in Lowry Hill; it happened to be the neighborhood my extended family ended up in decades and decades ago, and my own immediate family defaulted to the same multigenerational family house when we found ourselves in need of a place to live. But growing up there allowed me many advantages as my independent range increased from the neighborhood parks to uptown and downtown. I could easily commute to the U of M by bus when I did PSEO, walk to my first jobs and internships at the old Guthrie, Bobby Bead, and the Walker Art Center, and take advantage of so many more of the opportunities that proximity engenders. I want more people, more kids and young adults, particularly those who don’t have the kinds of familial and structural support networks I benefit(ted) from, to be able to have the geographic benefits that come with living in Lowry Hill.

  2. Shaina

    Very well stated. This is the perfect project in the perfect spot for it. I wish the developers a speedy development! I look forward to a more pleasant walk down Hennepin Avenue, and a city that is more integrated in terms of age, race, income and experience.

  3. cdelle

    As someone who lives car-free this location is perfect for people on a limited budget who want to live in a convenient location. I can’t wait to see this built, and look forward to welcoming new neighbors. It will be such a great addition to the neighborhood. I walk along this route often and having more people and activity as a result of the housing and retail in this new building will make me feel safer. I’m also hopeful we can maximize the units by building a taller building. Four stories on Hennepin is a wasted opportunity.

  4. SSP

    A good project for the site, an additional story would be even better. We simply shouldn’t be building one-story commercial on Hennepin, so this is a nice change from what we’ve been getting the last few years. Housing over retail creates 24-7 activity and a much better streetscape.

  5. Vaughn

    As an East Isles neighbor who likewise lives not far from Hennepin, I want to thank you for this and for many of your previous columns. In general, Hennepin from Franklin to Lagoon needs an infusion of density, height, pedestrians, greening, and better design. Despite significant improvements over the years, the avenue has been allowed to become a highway despite bisecting one of the most vibrant areas in the Cities. Increased density along Hennepin would not only calm its pedestrian-menacing speed and traffic, but would create a better buffer between it and the neighborhoods on either side behind it. The Peris Housing proposal looks great to me, too, though I also wish it were one or two stories taller.

  6. Erin

    I love this idea and the design looks good too. I live 2 blocks away and think this type of housing would be great in this location. I think as expensive developments/redevelopments come in, we should try to support projects that preserve economic diversity and affordability and the character of the neighborhood. Plus, this site is located within 1/2 mile of seven different bus routes (if i am counting correctly). I only wish the sidewalks could be widened or improved a bit on that stretch of hennepin. I swear, I am almost run over by a bicycle every time I walk to Lowry Hill Liquor.

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