Can sixteen rental units revitalize rental housing and landlord responsibility in a neighborhood deeply affected by the foreclosure crisis? That’s the hope of the Greater Frogtown Community Development Corporation and the Project for Pride in Living, which are collaborating in the Frogtown Affordable Rental Opportunity (FARO) to rehabilitate abandoned houses and restore rental housing.
“Our goal with the program is to get some community ownership of small rental properties that have been foreclosed and vacant for a long time,” said Jill Henrickson, executive director of the Greater Frogtown CDC. “The goal is to set a new standard for rental properties and landlords.”
Matt Soucek, the Senior Project manager for PPL, said that CDC and PPL together aim to create housing that is “stable, affordable, and safe,” and to practice “active management,” a situation that does not currently exist in Frogtown, according to Soucek. Many renters in Frogtown are forced out of the area when landlords’ properties go into foreclosure, creating an unstable renting environment in an area where most residents are renters rather than homeowners.
“A lot of tenants that have lost their apartments due to their landlord’s foreclosure have moved in with family and we’re hoping those people would come back,” said Henrickson.
Foreclosures often affect individuals or families who are forced out their homes due to poor management by landlords. Instead of letting those abandoned houses lie empty, the FARO project recognizes their value to the community.
“This is a foreclosure remediation program. We want to make sure that those who have lived in the area and who have been displaced have the opportunity to live in our properties,” said Soucek.
The collaboration between the CDC and PPL is an equal partnership that began approximately two years ago. The two organizations will jointly own 16 units, which are to be rehabilitated and transformed into properties available to rent by next summer. The 16 units consist of seven buildings: one four-plex and six duplexes. That’s only about one percent of the 1,700 housing units in Frogtown, but “our hope is that this is a start,” said Soucek. Soucek said that the FARO project plans on positively establishing itself in community and desires to purchase more properties in the future.
The Minnesota Housing Finance Agency awarded the joint effort $665,000 and the City of St Paul awarded $1,039,80 to support and help fund FARO. FARO has a purchase agreement with the City of Saint Paul and is hoping to close on all of the properties by January. Currently, the FARO project is in the process of getting bids from contractors, which will be received in December. They can then proceed to hire contractors and begin renovation.
“We haven’t stared renovation on any properties,” said Henrickson, “but as we get closer we want to get together a community advisory community to have input and feedback on what we should look out for and be thinking about doing.”
Soucek said that community leaders generally prefer not to concentrate low-income housing into one area, however, “ideally we like to get homes and buildings that are as close together as possible.” Choosing properties that are relatively close together assists in effective management, controlling operating costs, and making a bigger impact on a community according to Soucek. Soucek said that in addition to complying with the city’s desires, FARO also has a close ear to the needs of the community members. The 16 units that presently comprise the FARO project are within the boundaries of Lexington Avenue, Victoria Street, Thomas Avenue, and University Avenue.
The cost of rent for these units is projected to be lower than the market rate for the area, but rents will not be subsidized. Funding for the FARO project requires that they use a “capped rent,” meaning renters will not pay more than 33 percent of their income for rent. The projected rents for the units are $640/month for a one bedroom unit (one unit), $740/month for a two bedroom unit (ten units), $935/month for a three bedroom unit (four units), and $990/month for a four bedroom unit (one unit).
“We believe that we will bring an active management and that we will be good neighbors,” said Soucek. “There are a lot of situations in Frogtown where you’re not getting that co-existence because the owners are not as present and the renters come and go. But we believe that we will bring a real active style of management that will make us good neighbors.”