Preservation Meets Affordable Housing

by Erin Hanafin Berg, Field Representative
Nov. 9, 2010

Yesterday I attended the Homes for All conference in St. Paul to learn about opportunities to combine historic preservation and affordable housing. While much of the discussion centered on housing access, affordability, health concerns, etc., there were a couple of sessions that spoke to the issues near and dear to a preservationist’s heart.

One session outlined a collaborative effort between Project for Pride in Living and the Greater Frogtown CDC to purchase and rehab foreclosed single-family and multi-plex houses in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul. This neighborhood is full of houses from the late 1800s through about the 1910s, some of which were built as duplexes, or later converted. (Historic St. Paul has a nice primer on historic house styles prevalent in Frogtown.) PPL and the Greater Frogtown CDC will rehab a total of 16 unitsĀ  to green standards, using a combination of funding including some of St. Paul’s allocation of Federal NSP dollars. The project was initiated in 2008 and has taken a while to work through the funding pipeline, but construction should be ready to start in a few months. Already, GFCDC and PPL have received numerous calls from people interested in renting the units, showing that there is high demand for affordable housing in this transportation-accessible, diverse—and historic—neighborhood of St. Paul.

Another session profiled the work of Aeon, a non-profit housing developer that has undertaken a handful of historic rehabilitation projects in the Twin Cities. Aeon’s Ripley Gardens project in North Minneapolis won a preservation award from the Minneapolis Heritage Preservation Commission in 2008 and was a featured project at PAM’s “Old is the New Green” symposium in November 2009. Aeon is currently rehabbing a former shoe factory in downtown St. Paul as 70 affordable studio, 1-, and 2-bedroom units. This project, called Renaissance Box, received planning grants from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, and is utilizing rehabilitation tax credits as an important piece of the funding puzzle. Construction was finally underway just a few months ago, and I am eager to see the progress.

The Homes for All conference sponsors held a “Tweet-off” during the conference, so I waded bravely into those uncharted waters. While my efforts to win an iPad for the office were not successful, I did go from zero to 32 tweets in one day! Follow my entire stream here (#hfa10), or check out some of the other tweets from the conference here.

There is obviously more work to do to make sure that historic preservation goes hand-in-hand with affordable housing policy and developments. Hopefully this is an area where PAM can have an impact in the future, and that, at the next Homes for All Conference in 2014, there will be more historic and rehabbed projects—like Renaissance Box—to profile.

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