Andy Barnett, City of St. Paul, Frogtown Rondo Home Fund Coordinator
April 10, 2014
Along with the lifting of parking restrictions, the Twins opener, and the peeking tips of crocuses, one of the sure signs winter is over in the Twin Cities is the start of outdoor construction activity. By that measure, spring is here in the Frogtown Rondo Home Fund’s Jackson Focus Area. In these six blocks, there are four single family homes under construction by Home Fund partners and at least two more scheduled to begin later this year.
The Jackson Focus Area is one of three areas selected by community residents to implement the core strategy of the Frogtown Rondo Home Fund—to help guide housing investment in small areas of 6-8 blocks (or roughly 200 households) to create visible improvement. At the heart of this strategy is the belief that geographically targeting housing investments and giving residents control over deploying those investments helps achieve improvements in neighborhoods without sacrificing a neighborhood’s identity. This sharp focus allows us to go deeper in resident engagement and capitalize on opportunities for development we might otherwise miss.
Resident engagement in the Jackson focus area began in 2012 with a community engagement initiative called Frogtown Focus. Frogtown Focus consisted of 20 community sessions, conducted by the Frogtown Neighborhood Association, Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, and Springboard for the Arts, designed to gain input on a particular block or issue. Before each session, organizers canvassed the area to hear directly from residents. The effort produced neighborhood statements about affordability, unit size and tenure, and the balance of new and preserved housing. Community engagement has continued through Frogtown Neighborhood Association’s Lot Squats, a series of flash community events held on vacant lots throughout last year.
These blocks had some of the highest concentrations of foreclosures and one of the clear signals from residents was to try to get control over as many bank owned properties as possible. This became a central land acquisition strategy for the Jackson Focus Area. By describing to the bank the focused work underway, the Twin Cities Community Land Bank was able to secure the donation of 434 Charles Ave. and it is being renovated for sale to buyers with barriers to conventional mortgage finance by Model Cities. As of this writing, there is only one bank-owned home left in the Jackson focus area.
Two of the other projects reflect innovative approaches to housing development. 452 Thomas is the first project by Preserve Frogtown, a partnership between the Frogtown Neighborhood Association and Historic St. Paul. This partnership views the loss of the neighborhood’s significant architecture as a threat to neighborhood identity and they are developing a rehab model that they can scale up to address a larger number of homes. They are working with neighborhood artists, designers, and craftspeople to draw attention to the home, its history, and the legacy of Frogtown’s built environment. Similarly, 462 Edmund is the first home constructed in partnership between Urban Homeworks and Goodwill/Easter Seals supported by the City of St. Paul’s PED and HREEO Departments. Students in the Goodwill/Easter Seals construction training program will complete most of the construction on this new, energy efficient home—a triple play of affordable homeownership, local workforce development, and sustainable building.
Obviously, this work is just the beginning in creating visible improvements in housing in this area. Finding ways to address poor quality rental property without triggering rent increases that could destabilize tenants is a trickier puzzle to solve. But if spring in Minnesota has a lesson it is to focus on the promise of the small green shoots and never give up hope on the cycles of renewal.