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2023 SHPO Success Stories

Affordable Housing at Fort Snelling

Fort Snelling has stood watch over the convergence of the Mississippi and Minnesota rivers since before Minnesota was a state. The walled Lower Post was built in the 1820s, and the Upper Post added in 1879. After the Civil War, Fort Snelling was designated as headquarters for the Department of Dakota. The Upper Post grew in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to meet military needs within and outside of U.S. boundaries including the Spanish-American War and World Wars I and II. In World War II, the barracks hosted thousands of troops, including the Buffalo Soldiers, as well as a Japanese intelligence and language school.

After the war the Army found the Upper Post of little strategic value, so it was decommissioned and turned over to the Veterans Administration in 1946. By 1971 the Upper Post property was completely abandoned, eventually making its way into the management of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

The property was named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and was on endangered historic places lists of both the National Trust and the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota in the mid-2000s. By 2012, growing maintenance costs and incidents like the partial collapse of the historic quartermaster’s post spurred a coalition of state and local agencies to seek a better long-term solution for the Upper Post. The redevelopment project was born of a public-private partnership headed by the DNR, the Minnesota Historical Society, Hennepin County, and several other entities. In 2018 Twin Cities-based real estate developer Dominium struck a deal with the DNR to develop the site; construction began in 2019.

Construction of the Upper Post Flats had to strike a balance of preserving the historic buildings, constructed between 1879 and 1939, and transforming them into high-quality, affordable modern apartments. Crews worked to retain original building materials according to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards while making accommodations for modern living standards and special considerations like the acoustic glass used to soundproof the apartments against noise pollution from the nearby Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

While over 100 of the units of the Upper Post Flats still are under construction, 86 units became available in the fall of 2022, and one-quarter are currently under lease. The apartments are reserved for those making no more than 60 percent of the area median income, which is about $49,000, or $70,380 for a four-person household. The Upper Post Flats development has received positive publicity, with supporters pointing out the obvious benefit of providing much-needed affordable housing within Minneapolis-St. Paul, particularly for the veteran community.

Providing affordable housing in the Twin Cities represents part of a growing national need that continues to challenge housing advocates and preservationists. Undertaking the redevelopment of a historic property such as the Upper Post Flats often presents unique problems, but the benefits make adaptive reuse an attractive option for developers and investors, while also providing financial benefits for the broader com- munity. For instance, in Minnesota when development projects involving the rehabilitation of designated historic buildings utilize the State Historic Tax Credit, for every dollar of state tax credit awarded, the projects generate $9.90 in economic activity.

Dominium received Section 42 Federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, state and federal historic tax credits, and other state tax credits to raise private equity, in addition to Hennepin County environmental cleanup loans. The state and federal historic tax credits will cover 40% of the cost of rehabilitating the buildings, a substantial financial boost that provides essential gap financing for the redevelopment.

Affordable housing and historic preservation are often viewed as incompatible due to what are perceived as excessive rehabilitation expenses. However, affordable housing rehabilitation can contribute to the ongoing vitality of historic neighborhoods as well as of the businesses and institutions that serve them. The Upper Post Flats development demonstrates that buildings that have been vacant for a half century can be successfully rehabilitated into attractive, appealing affordable housing for many Twin Cities families.

New Housing Development Uncovers Artifacts

An intact, buried archaeological site representing early Euro-American habitation in the Seward neighborhood was found within the footprint of a proposed affordable housing development in 2023. The items found in the site have a lot to tell us about a brewery/restaurant/boarding house that operated at 2119 Snelling Avenue between 1905 and 1920. The items may also shed light on families who lived in three adjacent houses in the late 1800s. The affordable housing development has provided an opportunity to learn and preserve this piece of history during the process of constructing new housing in Minneapolis.

Wadaag Commons will be the final project of a multi-phase, mixed-income redevelopment in the Seward community, and will involve the new construction of a 6-story, 39-unit apartment building with units ranging in size from 1- to 4-bedrooms to be located at 1900 East 22nd Street, Minneapolis, MN 55404. Many families in the community, mainly consisting of East African households, are underhoused. This project will be the first affordable housing development for large families built in the neighborhood in over 20 years and will offer larger units for households who might otherwise leave the neighborhood or city to find large enough homes they can afford. The building will be 100% affordable to low-income families, and 24 3- and 4-bedroom units will serve households at 30% of Area Median Income (AMI), with a commitment of Project-Based Section 8 Vouchers from the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA). Additional funding for the project will come from Minnesota Housing, the City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Met Council, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

Due to the use of federal funding for the development, Minnesota Housing was required to ask the State Historic Preservation Office whether the project would affect historic properties. A review of historic maps revealed the potential that the site could contain the preserved remains of houses that used to stand on the lot in the late 1800s. The developer hired an archaeological firm to investigate whether this was true. Through stages of careful, controlled excavation, the archaeologists peeled back soil, pavement, and gravel layers associated with the modern use of the lot and found preserved material dating from the late 1800s to the early 1900s.

The archaeological site consists of the foundation footprints of two historic privies from the late 19th century and a layer of historic artifacts from the late 19th and early 20th centuries buried 3 feet below the current surface. The site is associated with three houses that were constructed between 1884 and 1887 along Snelling Avenue. The two privies were used before city water and plumbing were made available in Seward, sometime in the early 20th century. Privies are typically cleaned out and often used as local trash pits after plumbing is available. Of the two privies at this site, one of them is filled with the trash from a brewery/restaurant that operated at 2119 Snelling Avenue from 1905 to 1920. The artifacts found in the privy can provide information about the owners/operators of the brewery (John and Alfre Youngstrom) and their boarders.

The developer, Minnesota Housing, the City of Minneapolis, and HUD were committed to minimizing the destruction of this significant site by preserving information about the site and sharing that information back with the community. The archaeological firm will prepare a final technical report of their investigation at the site and then will prepare two presentations to share the findings of the report. At least one of the presentations will be held within the Seward neighborhood. Additionally, the developer will prepare interpretive panels within the new building or associated greenspace that tell the story of the archaeological site. Despite the loss of the archaeological site itself, the information contained within the site will be shared with the public, providing preservation of the site in the minds of those who will live there in the future.

Reinstated Historic Tax Credit Program Improvements

With the reinstatement of the Minnesota State Historic Tax credit program the SHPO Tax Team used the opportunity to make application form improvements to assist the office in meeting the Goals of the State Historic Preservation Plan and to better serve program applicants.  Updates to the application forms were designed to improve usability, better align with the federal historic tax credit forms, minimize errors, and to increase the knowledge and understanding of the impacts of the program.

To best identify and implement changes MN SHPO Tax team identified six topic areas for improvement that if addressed, would help to better meet the goals of the program, Office, and the Preservation Plan.

The first topic was how better align with the Federal Program. Staff aligned language, terminology, question order, and formatting of the State Application to allow the Federal and State applications to compliment, rather than contradict each other. This work achieved, in part, GOAL 1 of the Preservation Plan to Facilitate Connections and Cultivate Partnerships Objective, specifically, Objective 3 to Clarify and coordinate roles to improve preservation outcomes.

The second topic area addressed Preservation Plan GOAL 3 to Develop Proactive Strategies That Advance Equity, Expand Access, Increase Diversity, and Foster Inclusion. After receiving feedback from a small project applicant, in greater MN, about the financial burden of some of the requirements – such as a CPA’s letter—MNSHPO examined the requirement. Now, there are multiple avenues for applicants to meet the financial reporting the requirements, including a free option. This work increased access to the program by simplifying extraneous and financially burdensome application requirements.

The third area explored was the minimizing barriers for applicants. MNSHPO staff examined internal processes and procedures and identified places where information requested was unnecessary for administration of the program. Additionally, Staff listened to applicant’s feedback about how early financial reporting requirements are a barrier to initial submission.  The application change resulted in the removal of redundant or unnecessary questions, and no longer requiring detailed QRE schedules at initial application. This work removed application unnecessary and reduced barriers to project access.  By doing so, the changes have helped to meet GOAL 3 of the Preservation Plan, which is to develop proactive strategies that advance equity, expand access, increase diversity, and foster inclusion. Moreover, this work meets Objective 4 to Engage a more diverse audience; listen to better identify, understand, and address broader perspectives. While also meeting the proposed action item “a” which is to Reduce barriers to participation in preservation.

To better promote the program through the state, critical information about who is accessing and benefitting from the credit is needed. To increase MNSHPOs knowledge regarding the impacts of the program and preservation, new voluntary questions – rather than requirements—were introduced. These added questions are contributing to meeting Goal 1 of the plan and object 2 which is to increase knowledge of and build support for historic preservation among government officials. Without information about who is using accessing the program, elected officials are missing key information to support the program moving forward.

Topic area five was how the office could obtain more regular feedback on the program from applicants, developers, and consultants. As such a new, optional, question that allows applicants to “opt in” to allow for MNSHPO to directly connect with applicants to understand their sustainability efforts and to better quantify the carbon mitigation outcomes those rehabilitation projects. This change will help MN SHPO meet the Preservation Plan GOAL 5 to strengthen links between preservation, sustainability, and resiliency.

The final area reviewed was how to reduce technical application errors that inadvertently increase application review times and delay project starts. Staff found that often applicants misunderstand questions or accidentally fail to submit all the required application parts. To respond to this reality, staff used parallel language to NPS in all program materials, wrote the application questions to be as clear as possible, created additional application tip sheets, updated the information delivery of the website, and created application specific instructions that utilized plain language, formatting, and other measures to make the document more usable.  This work met Preservation Plan GOAL 2 to expand and share information, skills, and access. Specifically, these improvements met Objective 2 which is to improve and expand delivery of preservation information through action “c”, which is to redesign existing digital communication to improve online presence and provide greater access to information.

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