The value of the Amber Union housing project

By Yakasah Wehyee

Access to quality, affordable housing is widely unavailable in Minnesota and rectifying that situation is an imperative stepping stone to closing disparities within communities of color.

Since 2000, rent prices across the state have increased by 14 percent while wages have remained relatively stagnant. (https://drive.google.com/file/d/1_Fwcthyx1_i4vjaQyYFTbunghxMffp4A/view)

Meanwhile, construction of new housing units took a ­major hit (https://www.minnpost.com/national/2021/05/housing-construction-in-minnesota-never-really-recovered-after-the-great-recession-now-federal-policymakers-are-looking-to-give-it-a-boost/) in the early 2000s and has yet to fully recover. Though a recent uptick in construction might seem promising, we have to act now in order to provide enough new affordable housing units for Minnesota’s growing population.

Immediate action that provides such housing can be seen in the Amber Union project. On Aug. 16, at the corner of Snelling and Larpenteur avenues in Falcon Heights, the groundbreaking took place for this new residential redevelopment.

This critical project will transform the historic former TIES office building into a residential complex, providing 125 new units of affordable housing for community members earning 50 percent of the Area Median Income level and 930 square feet of commercial and retail space. Of these new residential units, 40 will have three bedrooms—the type of housing desperately needed by bigger families that is often too expensive.

The Amber Union project was made possible by a collaboration of various government agencies including the Metropolitan Council and with financial assistance from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. The city of Falcon Heights also is providing support through historic tax credits, tax-exempt bonds and tax-increment financing.

Buhl Investors, who is developing the property, anticipates completing the project in the fall of 2022.

When looking to tackle the housing crisis, quality affordable housing is key in order to relieve tenants of the burden of exorbitantly high rent prices. Being able to spend 30 percent or less of your monthly income on housing provides renters the opportunity to create financial stability with the longer-term goal of future home ownership, which currently is inaccessible to many Black, Indigenous and People of Color community members.

Meanwhile, when considering affordable housing, there is often a lack of emphasis on quality. People need more than just four walls to thrive. A home must be a place that people can take pride in. Having a place to call home is the foundation to living a stable life and having healthy communities and a thriving state.

Funding is often a key barrier to developing new affordable housing complexes. But government collaboration can eliminate those barriers by tapping into innovative funds. For example, the Metropolitan Council accessed funding for the Amber Union project from the Metropolitan Livable Communities Fund, which aims to create more housing choices, support living wage job creation; and connect jobs, housing and regional amenities to create a more equitable region.

Collaboration among government agencies with community at the forefront is the only way to achieve an affordable housing system that works for all of Minnesota’s residents. While much work is left to be done in order to solve the housing crisis, starting by providing quality, affordable housing—like the Amber Union project—is an essential first step. 

Yakasah Wehyee is a member of the Falcon Heights City Council.

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