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A nonprofit hopes to sell $300,000 homes in the land of vacant lots

In a part of the city riddled with cheap, vacant lots and no buyers, new builds continue within the Humboldt Greenway project.

In a part of the city riddled with cheap, vacant lots and no buyers, new builds continue within the Humboldt Greenway project.

With hundreds of vacant lots, north Minneapolis remains largely untouched by the City of Lake's robust real estate market. The Humboldt Greenway project — located west of Interstate 94 off 49th Ave. N. — is the exception. Or at least the hope. 

"The first challenge was always, will everything around it support this?" says Karen Mahaffey, a realtor who formerly sold homes within the project. "Are people going to pay $350,000 for a house when two or three streets over, there's one for sale for under $200,000 in a spot that's not so nice? I hope so. There's low inventory out there and the need for quality newer-built homes is strong. There are things working in its favor."

It hasn't always been the case.

Humboldt Greenway was first sketched out 15 years ago. It would be a city within the city. Modestly sized single family homes would intermingle with townhouses, surrounded by green space and flanked by parkway.

Government investment of $28 million for such things as parkland greased the wheels. Still, developer Ross Fefercorn knew it was a gamble. He would be trying to sell homes at prices as much as three times higher than the North Side's going rate.      

Fefercorn's first house sold for $255,000, while the address across the alley appraised at $80,000. Roughly 130 more townhouses and single family residences followed. Realtor Sam Anim recalls endless calls from prospective buyers more than willing to pay Humboldt's asking prices that often sniffed $300,000.

Fefercorn says he had little choice but to abandon the project when the real estate market tumbled in 2008. The lots went into foreclosure or tax forfeiture. Over time, ownership of the dormant dirt fell to the city of Minneapolis, which last September finally had a buyer.    

The city council approved the sale of more than 90 lots to Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation for $363,240. The nonprofit has partnered with a for-profit contractor, MyHomeSource. They plan to take over where Fefercorn left off — except with starting selling prices of $300,000 and up. Six houses comprise the first phase. A model should be open by March. Eight more will be finished by August. The total number of houses — and perhaps townhouses — remains a work in progress.

Greater Metropolitan President Carolyn Olson is aware of the criticism from the Lind-Bohanon Neighborhood Association, which believes the prices are too spendy in a locale where the median house value is $103,000.

"If you look at what's available in the real estate market in this price range, we believe there's a buying market that will see value," Olson says. "What we're trying to do is bring economic integration to the community by providing affordable housing."

She points to the group's track record as proof. Since 2008, Greater Metropolitan has "sold and completed" 400 houses in Minneapolis. According to Olson, half of the buyers were already living in the neighborhood, half were minorities. 

Realtor Anim dismisses Olson's definition of "affordable housing."

"You can talk about how close it is to downtown and how the location just off the highway and makes for an easy commute," he says. "But it's still north Minneapolis. I could see $250,000 or maybe $275,000. But $300,00? No."

Former Humboldt developer Fefercorn won't speculate whether the new beginning will become the watershed that spurs greater residential upgrading in north Minneapolis.

"Sometimes things happen at the right time," he says. "This could be the right time. I wish them luck."