Alliance Housing was begun in 1991 by residents and staff of St. Stephen’s Emergency Shelter. For its first five years it focused on buying duplexes in south Minneapolis and renting the apartments either to several homeless single adults or a homeless family. Each single got their own bedroom and shared the rest of the unit with one or two others; families got an apartment with two to four bedrooms. Since the properties were in good shape, homeless people could move in right after purchase. In the 1990’s these properties were bargains. Today, in 2005, Alliance Housing would have to pay four to five times what it paid then. Alliance Housing paid for them with deferred loans from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency and, sometimes, with a small bank mortgage.
By the mid-1990’s Alliance Housing also began to focus on sober supportive housing as a housing solution for people who wouldn’t make it in just straight housing. They were people who had chemical dependency or mental health problems or both. They needed a 24-hour front desk both to keep unwanted visitors out of the building and to make sure the residents were keeping sober. The housing also provided residents with social services to help them deal with their issues, stay away from drugs and alcohol, find and keep employment, sign up for training courses, develop new friends, and, eventually, move into a less restrictive environment if that was their goal. In partnership with the Central Community Housing Trust and RS Eden, Alliance Housing developed three supportive housing projects: Alliance Apartments (124 units for homeless singles), Portland Village (26 units for homeless families) and Central Avenue Apartments (61 units for homeless singles).
Sober supportive housing is a housing solution for singles and families who are ready and willing to try and keep sober. So often in Minnesota, people get clean and sober through expensive treatment and aftercare only to be release back to their old haunts and to almost certain relapse. Sober supportive housing keeps the sobriety going longer by placing people in a sober housing setting and watching their coming and going as well as that of their friends. Residents whose behavior makes them suspicious for having used are asked to pee. If their urine sample comes up dirty, they risk losing their housing. While some see this structure as too restrictive, most sober supportive housing residents see it as absolutely essential. Without it they would never have stayed clean and sober. Eventually many of these successful residents get enough months (years) of sobriety under their belts to think about moving to regular housing. The rule is: the longer you’re sober the better chance you have of remaining sober.
Alliance Housing has always known that sober housing doesn’t work for all homeless people. In 2001, it bought a 27-unit rooming house on a grand Minneapolis street graced with tall elm trees and stately old mansions. Alliance Housing places homeless singles in rooms in this building. Often they come right out of St. Stephen’s Shelter. If they can pay the rent and get a favorable recommendation, Alliance Housing will offer them a room, frequently on a weekly lease. It they pay their rent on time and behave, they can switch to a monthly lease after 90 days. Some, however, prefer paying rent once a week since they never have a whole months rent at one time. Unlike most landlords, Alliance Housing doesn’t sock residents with late fees if they’re late with their rent. Because of their low incomes, some of our residents take most of the month to get their rent paid. That’s okay.
Alliance Housing is currently developing workforce housing for low wage and entry level workers. At East Lake Street and Hiawatha Avenue it will soon start construction on Hiawatha Commons, 80 units of workforce housing over first floor retail. In all, 48 of the housing units will be very affordable and the others at market rate for that part of Minneapolis. Hiawatha Commons is a five minute walk from the new light rail line, which provides easy access to jobs in downtown Minneapolis at at the airport and Mall of America. It will provide residents with employment services to help residents find jobs, additional work if they are working reduced hours, and training programs to increase their skill levels so they can access better paying jobs. Look for Hiawatha Commons to open in the late spring of 2006.