A 15-story 'approachable housing' development pitched for Northeast

"I'm not aware of any affordable ownership opportunities in downtown Minneapolis," says the Land Trust's Jeff Washburne.

"I'm not aware of any affordable ownership opportunities in downtown Minneapolis," says the Land Trust's Jeff Washburne.

In the auto sales business, they're no longer used cars. They're previously owned cars.

Now apartment developers are following suit with a similar twist from the linguistic playbook. 

"I think over time developers have used a number of different terms to stay away from the term 'affordable housing,' because it might turn some folks off or it may scare some [others]," says Jeff Washburne, executive director of the Community Land Trust, a nonprofit that helps working families buy homes. "Everybody comes to the table thinking what affordable is or isn't."

So earlier this month a new term was added to the lexicon: approachable pricing. 

It's the invention of Fe Equus Development and Downtown Resource Group of Minneapolis. The tandem is pitching a 15-story condo building at the intersection of Southeast Central Avenue and East Hennepin Ave. The tract is currently a ramshackle structure and a parking lot. The proposed project would consist of 110 units, of which 22 would be offered at “approachable-unit pricing.” 

A one-bedroom condo, for instance, might regularly sell for $359,000. But for those buyers below the $71,000 median family income in Minneapolis, the approachable-priced unit could retail for something closer to $199,000.

Messages left at Downtown Resource Group went unreturned. But the Land Trust's Washburne is a fan of what it's pitching.  

"Other than this proposed project," he says, "I'm not aware of any affordable ownership opportunities in downtown Minneapolis, and I feel pretty comfortable expanding that radius into the target areas of the northeast [and] the North Loop.… 

"If 'approachable housing' works [for these developers], then so be it. The way we look at it is it would be meeting the gap between what somebody is making and what they can actually purchase in that community, and right now those people in the middle are being priced out."

The proposal is a long way from a done deal. It will require the city to sign off on tax increment financing, in which property taxes are paid on the value of the property prior to development, versus the increased value post-building.  

Washburne points to lessons Minneapolis can learn from cities ahead in the urban development curve.

"The median home price in Seattle is $722,000. Denver is $439,000. Portland is $347,000. In Minneapolis proper, we're at $244,000," he says. "If you look how those downtowns have built up, their urban cores feel to me like they've got a five, 10, maybe 15-year lead on us as it relates to density and condos, and the stuff in the neighborhoods followed that development. So you look here, say what's happening in the North Loop, it's impacting what's happening in the Harrison neighborhood.

"I see this as an opportunity to expand affordable housing in the urban core," he says. "And if this doesn't happen or there isn't the political will to make it happen, then I think we have to stop talking about it and just recognize we're going to go the way of the other cites… that we're very comfortable having a divided city, that we're choosing who gets to live in the city and who doesn't moving forward."