Restoring affordable housing in St Paul’s Highland Bridge area

A groundbreaking ceremony took place Tuesday morning, January 17, for Restoring Waters and Nellie Francis Court, new housing initiatives developed by Emma Norton and Project for Pride in Living (PPL). The initiative is part of St Paul’s Highland Bridge Master Plan, which designated 20 percent of the 3,800 planned units for affordable housing. 

Situated on 135 acres of land along the Mississippi River, on the old Ford Motor assembly plant site, the city is developing a new mixed-use neighborhood with clean technologies and high-quality, energy-designed buildings and infrastructure.

Emma Norton, the developer of the Restoring Waters project—a 60-unit transformational housing development—provides a place for women and families who have experienced trauma and homelessness and require comprehensive support services in their recovery. 

In addition, the St. Paul-based nonprofit operates a 50-unit building near downtown St. Paul and a townhome site in Maplewood.

“All residents will have access to a case manager and peer support specialist,” said Tonya Brownlow, executive director of St. Paul-based Emma Norton. “We will also have a small clinic in the building for our visiting nurse, as well as other volunteer health specialists,” added Brownlow. 

“We will open the space to acupuncturists, chiropractic care, massage therapists, mental health professionals, and any others that want to volunteer. We also are preparing to hire a clinical director for more specialized mental health services,” continued Brownlow.

“Restoring Waters is permanent supportive housing—and people can live there for as long as they want to—provided they maintain the conditions of their lease,” said Brownlow. “[It] uses a government benefit known as Housing Support to create more housing opportunities for people with disabilities and that are considered to be long-term homeless,” she continued.

“Restoring Waters has been intentionally designed to incorporate trauma-informed design principles into the building, which is different than most other apartment buildings, including market rate and affordable housing.”

Courtesy of Emma Norton

In addition to Restoring Waters’ 60 units, Nellie Francis Court will provide 75 apartments—from studios to two bedrooms—for low-income working individuals and families. It will also include a community room, workspace, wellness space, bike room, and underground parking that will be shared with Emma Norton residents.

“The building is named after Nellie Griswold Francis, founder of the Everywoman Suffrage Club (ESC) in 1914, which was the only Black woman suffrage organization in Minnesota at the time,” said Brownlow. 

In 1920, the ESC became the Everywoman Progressive Council, dedicated to the promotion of political and economic equality and social justice, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.

Funded through tax housing credits and other government funding, the majority of referrals for Restoring Waters are required to come through the coordinated entry system for homeless individuals. To qualify, people must be homeless and have a disability for a long duration.

“Supportive housing requires that people receive supportive services in addition to affordable housing,” said Brownlow. “Our affordability is targeted at those who are extremely or very low income—meaning they earn 30% of area median income.” 

She added, “Nellie Francis Court is referred to as ‘workforce housing’ and is an affordable housing development, without supportive services, that targets people earning 50–60 percent of area median income.”

By the time Restoring Waters and Nellie Court open, they will likely have a long waiting list of applicants. “The number of housing units being developed for Restoring Waters and Nellie Court is relatively small,” said Brownlow. “Any housing units created address the needs. But the challenge is that these projects take so long to develop that they can’t keep up with the need overall,” she added. 

“There is not enough rental housing overall in for the Twin Cities—for affordable housing or market rate—and adding all the units being built at Highland Bridge will help add to the overall housing stock.”

Together, the two projects will bring much-needed supportive and affordable housing to this historic St. Paul neighborhood. The location is ideal for families and households as it is close to seven newly designed city parks, retail stores, bus service, and an LRT Station. 

Both projects are being developed by Project for Pride in Living (PPL), designed by Urbanworks Architecture, and constructed by Ryan Companies US, Inc. Construction in Highland Bridge is targeted for completion in late 2023 and early 2024 for both buildings.

“Restoring Waters is a project that St. Paul supports in its commitment to developing deeply affordable housing units,” said Brownlow.

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