Public housing

$27 million upgrade for aging Elliot Twins social housing towers complete

Minneapolis leaders gathered Tuesday to mark the completion of the state’s largest public housing renovation project.

The landmark $27 million project at the Elliot Twins brought modern fire safety systems and improved living spaces to two downtown apartment towers. The City of Minneapolis contributed $2.3 million to improve the energy efficiency of the towers.

“That’s how to do public housing right,” Mayor Jacob Frey said during a news conference at the housing complex on Tuesday. “We care about the people in our social housing, and we’re going to put our money where our mouth is. And that means deeply affordable long-term housing.”

The renovation remodeled the 174 existing social housing units in the aging towers and added 10 disabled-accessible units. Features of the upgraded apartment include new central air conditioning, kitchens, upgraded bathrooms and new finished flooring. The transformation also added 6,200 square feet of new common areas and amenities, such as community and office spaces, security upgrades, expanded laundry facilities and exercise rooms.

The Housing Authority has also retrofitted all units in the Elliot Twins with fire sprinklers and upgraded fire alarm systems. The need to bring the authority’s aging buildings up to modern safety codes became urgent in November 2019, when a fire at the agency’s Cedar High apartments, which lacked sprinklers, killed five residents.

Work at the Elliot Twins began at the start of the pandemic and lasted 15 months. To achieve this, the housing authority sought help from private sources such as Bremer Bank, RBC Capital Markets and Hunt Real Estate Capital. The 15-year partnership, through a program called “Rental Assistance Demonstration”, transfers ownership of social housing buildings to a private entity. In return, private investors benefit from tax credits issued by the City.

At the time, many feared that MPHA’s use of private financing would lead to permanent displacement of tenants and privatization of the public housing stock. Abdi Warsame, executive director of the Housing Authority, said on Tuesday that no tenants had been displaced during the refurbishment and that the partnership was crucial to addressing the shortage of affordable housing in the city.

The project “will serve as a model for how the agency can preserve and produce additional high-quality homes for residents,” Warsame said. “Every resident who wanted to return to the property following a temporary relocation was able to return to a newly renovated home.”

MPHA officials said the agency would continue to own the land where the buildings are located and that ownership would remain affordable for families with incomes below 30% of the region’s median. About 80% of Elliot Twins residents are black, with the majority being seniors and immigrants, according to the housing authority. Their average annual family income is $12,435.