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Ramsey County approves $21.6M for affordable housing development projects

The money from the county is expected to go toward around 450 new and existing affordable housing units.

ST PAUL, Minn. — From the Ashland Apartments in St. Paul's Cathedral Hill neighborhood to the Gallery Building downtown, Ramsey County is awarding $21.6 million to 18 affordable housing development projects countywide. 

According to a press release, the money will go toward around 450 new and "preserved" affordable housing units. Of them, nearly half are considered "deeply affordable" at 30% Area Medium Income.

The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners and the Housing and Redevelopment Authority approved the investment, which they say comes from the American Rescue Plan Act, the Housing Redevelopment Authority levy, and General Obligation bonds. The board also approved allocating an additional $17 million in leftover American Rescue Plan Act funds toward affordable housing projects.

"These are projects that really impact our communities," said commissioner Mary Jo McGuire, who represents District 2. "We're just so excited in our community to have the capacity to now do this."

While proud of their work, commissioners acknowledged that more needs to be done, as around 15,000 affordable housing units are needed countywide.

"The actions that we just took here … are bold actions for a local government, for a county to invest in permanent infrastructure to really help along that continuum and there are gaps all along that continuum," District 6 commissioner Jim McDonough said.

County manager Ryan O'Connor and housing stability director Keith Lattimore reported there is currently an uptick of unsheltered individuals.

"June 22 is a date that we have set that we are really nervous right now, if I'm being honest, about where we sit with the funds that are coming because June 22 really signifies our rollback, our step-back plan, from the Mary Hall location, which is still functional and operational, as well as our Luther seminary site," Lattimore said.

Meanwhile, Lattimore says the Bethesda Hospital site is on track to turn back over to MHealth Fairview by the end of the month. He says residents have already moved out of the building.

"Everyone was offered a place," he said. "Some chose to go on their own but no one was exited to homelessness."

Now, in this final week of the regular legislative session, county leaders are continuing to call on state lawmakers to pass a housing stability bill. Government relations director Jennifer O’Rourke said Monday night, the Minnesota Senate sent an offer to the House "that had zero for homelessness dollars." However, she says that may change.

"We have a lot of reason to hope that in the end, they're going to be okay with some of those dollars," O'Rourke said.

"The last time I was here, we had $8 million in the Health and Human Services omnibus bill for fiscal year '22, which is just a portion of our original ask as you'll recall," she added. "That has not changed … As you might guess, because the county provides a lot of these services, the health and human services bill offers a lot of important county services that we all support like childcare, early ed., the various disability services and whatnot, so in a lot of ways, we're competing with other priorities of the county."

Tuesday, Minnesota Housing announced applications are open for HomeHelpMN, a pandemic relief program for homeowners who owe past-due mortgage payments and other expenses. The program is expected to fill quickly. The month-long application period goes through June 17.

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