Nancy Edmonds Hanson
Older men and women who are chronically homeless have some good news – indeed, a “silver lining” – in their future. Churches United for the Homeless has received approval for $6.7 million in interest-deferred bonds from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. Coupled with funding from other sources , including a local fund-raising campaign, that means that construction will begin later this year on Silver Linings Apartments, a 36-unit residence in north Moorhead offering permanent supportive housing.
Pastor Sue Koesterman, executive director of Churches United, says Silver Linings has been on her “bucket list” for many years. The board began moving it forward several years ago, then submitted the application for low-interest long-term financing last summer. They got word three weeks ago that their request had been approved.
“Our community has a really strong need for this kind of deeply affordable housing,” Koesterman says. A market study last year revealed that the local population of ages 62 and older is increasing at the rate of 3% per year. A total of 2,402 of them make less than $20,000 per year; 746 live on less than $10,000. That age group represents the fastest growing segment of the area’s homeless population.
To qualify for the one-bedroom apartments and the services that accompany them, applicants can make no more than 50% of the area’s median income. Most, she says, will earn less than 30% of that modest amount, set at $30,677 by census data. Most will already be clients of Churches United.
Plans for the apartments include several kinds of housing. Some units will be typical one-bedroom apartments, with several fully accessible units on each floor. The three-story building also includes two eight-unit pods for people who need additional structure to break the cycle of homelessness. In addition to the living quarters, the main floor includes a food pantry, library, community room, laundry and nursing office. The upper floors, too, offer laundry areas.
Construction is expected to begin in October or November. The apartments should be ready for occupancy in late 2022.
Koesterman says operating costs for staffing and maintenance will ultimately be covered by rent, mostly in the form of housing vouchers. “The project will cash-flow throughout its lifespan,” the director predicts. “But the cost to construct quality housing with the amenities people need is so very expensive.”
In partnership with Beyond Housing, a Fargo firm that specializes in affordable housing, Churches United has sought the funds it needs in several forms. The interest-deferred bonds from the Minnesota Housing Agency through its Flexible Financing for Capital Costs program, in which repayment is deferred for 30 years. “It makes deeply affordable housing like this possible,” Koesterman observes.
Another $575,000 is coming from another Housing Agency program. The final piece of the puzzle is funds donated by individuals and organizations in the community. She says the campaign has exceeded its original goal of $250,000, with $340,000 in donations so far. The excess will be used to create an operating reserve. “We’re still accepting contributions,” she adds.
Silver Linings will be built to the east of to the Bright Sky Apartments, another Churches United project that has been providing permanent homes for younger adults and children for three years. The site just west of 34th Street on Third Avenue North is on a MATBUS route and is close to Cashwise, Walmart and Target.
“We’re so excited to be moving forward,” the pastor emphasizes. “This meets one of the goals in our strategic plan – to provide housing stability for some of our neighbors experiencing homelessness and poverty. Churches United has a lot of expertise to bring to the table.”