Archive for November, 2021

Rooming Houses Regain Legitimacy Through City and County Policy

Posted on: November 11th, 2021

Alliance Housing’s policy advocacy work had some successes this past year.  In some ways, the pandemic has provided more access to elected officials by video chat and more focus on tenant protections.  Minneapolis Councilmember Cam Gordon saw the value of single room occupancy (SRO or to us sleeping rooms) from a cost perspective and as part of the housing puzzle almost immediately upon learning about them from Alliance Housing.  He was already a fan of shared housing having passed the intentional community legislation to address some challenges of student housing in the University neighborhoods.  Councilmembers Cam Gordon, Jeremy Schroeder and Lisa Goodman convened a study group of industry professionals and City staff and crafted a new ordinance that once again allows new SRO rental licenses in Minneapolis within certain parameters and management.  They had been banned for 15+ years after a lot of trouble with poorly managed properties.

Tandem to the City of Minneapolis efforts, Hennepin County staff also took on advocacy of SRO housing policy as a value added to the area’s housing supply.  Julia Welle Ayers, a Housing Development and Finance Director in Hennepin County’s Housing and Economic Development department, convened a group of nonprofit developers, City and County staff and private sector developers and architects over a 9 month period to craft a policy framework.  The committee was the brain child of former Commissioner Opat.  The SRO policy framework was adopted by the County board in October and offers guidance to cities in the County who wish to open up planning processes for the addition of SRO housing. In addition, Hennepin County purchased four buildings in 2020 to ultimately convert to SRO housing. This included the Stevens Square Residence, which Alliance Housing already operates as SRO housing under a lease from Hennepin.

Alliance believes the new ordinance will increase the number of well managed and affordable sleeping rooms in Minneapolis and Hennepin County above and beyond the flexibility it offers its own efforts.  Both Hennepin and Minneapolis allocated ARP Act funds to develop additional SRO housing.

New Members of the Team Ready for the Future

Posted on: November 11th, 2021

The more things change, the more they stay the same and build for the future.  We’ve mentioned pending staff transitions over the past year.  Bob Bono, 20+ year property manager, has reduced his time to 3 days per week and will fully retire in the next 6-8 months.  He is focused on preparing Tiffany, Samantha and Gus to carry on the “Alliance way.”  Barb Jeanetta, Director, will retire by June 30, 2022.  The board has a recruitment and hiring process underway.

When Alliance Housing looks for new staff, we look for people that “get” our tenants – either through personal experience, work experience or personal attributes.  The mechanics and law of property management can be taught and learned.  Tiffany Simmons joined Alliance in October 2020.  She had previously worked at Better Futures MN with men coming out of prison.  She took on many roles there, including assisting with lease-up of Great River Landing, a new residence built by Beacon Interfaith Collaborative for Housing for men coming out of prison – including the Better Futures participants.  Alliance hired Tiffany to manage its housing funder compliance reporting and to lease up and manage Stevens Square Residence.  “Tiffany transitioned easily into both roles,” says Barb.  “She sets clear and positive expectations of tenants and has no problem holding them accountable.”

Gus Weah Jr. joined Alliance in July 2021 after several months of unsuccessful recruitment of experienced maintenance workers.  Gus came with private sector maintenance work but the mission focus of Alliance appealed to him.  Bob says, “Gus jumped right in to a list of deferred work orders.  When perplexed by tenant behavior, he looks for advice.”  Gus is comfortable with a work routine that sometimes gets interrupted by more priority tasks and has strong computer skills which will be an asset with Alliance property management and maintenance software.

After Tamuno Imbu left for a promotional opportunity at PPL, Samantha Giarrusso was hired in September 2021.  Samantha arrived with 5+ years of property management experience in the private sector where she managed at least one affordable housing property. “Tiffany and Samantha have good chemistry and work well together,” says Barb.  Tiffany noted, “between Samantha and I, we ask Bob a million questions a week.  We want to learn all we can from him before he retires.”

New properties, new tenants, same mission . . .

Posted on: November 11th, 2021

A million dollar gift from an anonymous donor made Alliance’s dream come true to make more affordable rental housing available by increasing its scattered site housing portfolio.  The donor was introduced by a volunteer/donor/colleague and immediately liked Alliance’s management style and ability to finance its properties in a way that allowed very low income households, many needing a 2nd chance, to create a home for themselves.

Over the last 1 ½ years, Alliance has purchased two properties with the anonymous donor equity and a small mortgage from Sunrise Banks.  Sunrise Banks helped Alliance finance some of its very first properties in South Minneapolis and made a mortgage loan based on a long time relationship – both in banking and lending.  In the future, Alliance plans take-out the equity and loan dollars with government soft debt and have capital to invest in additional properties.

We’ve previously reported on the purchase of 3416 Park Avenue from Park Avenue United Methodist Church in June 2020.  It is a stately Victorian building that we’ve completed a significant facelift on with new siding, porch repairs and a full paint job.  Alliance has also completed some not quite so visible inside repairs and will soon rehab kitchens up and down.  Part of the anonymous donor’s capital aided the renovations.

The building was already home to 5 resettled African refugee men who each rent a room on the 2nd and 3rd floors and a family on the first floor.  We kept rents of both at the same very affordable rate as offered by the church.  The men work low wage jobs nights, pay their rent mostly on time and manage their shared living arrangement.  Due to a voluntary move-out of the family, we were able to do some additional maintenance and repairs on the first floor and just moved in a new family.  Samantha, our newest property manager exclaimed “it’s just beautiful” on her first visit.  All units as they become vacant will offer an opportunity to one of the 750+ households on our interest list of completed applications.

Our newest acquisition, 2924 35th Avenue, is just a few blocks from Minnehaha Commons in the Longfellow neighborhood.  It is a tidy 6 unit property built in the 1960s.  The building was fully occupied – 5 two bedroom and 1 one bedroom apartments.  As with Park, we’ll leave the rent structure as is.  As units become vacant, it will offer an opportunity to some of the families on our interest list.  In our existing portfolio, family units rarely open – our families know a good deal when they have one.

Two existing tenants offered some information to give you a sense of who has now become an Alliance tenant.  Suzie has lived in the Longfellow neighborhood all but 10 of her 73 years. She has lived at 2924 35th Avenue for over 20 years and feels like it is part of her extended family.  Suzie said, “So as you can guess I love this neighborhood.”  She noted that there is another tenant in the building whose mother lived there for 30 years.  When she had to move to a nursing home, her son took over the apartment.   Suzie offered, “During the riots this last summer, we took care of ourselves.” The photo is of her much loved pet.  Alliance usually doesn’t allow pets but grandfathered in the pet rule at 2924 35th Avenue.

Laura and Jimmy and their 5 year old son are the newest tenants at 2924 35th Avenue.  They were referred to Alliance Housing by another tenant in the building who knew of their saga to regain stable housing.  Laura and Jimmy were early victims of the early COVID shut down economy and lost jobs and their house.  Offers of friends to re-locate to Missouri for work and housing ended up being more promise than reality.  They spent all of the money they had on lodging (mostly camping), food, gas and survival until they got back to Minnesota.  Through persistence they got a little help from the County and were ultimately able to start a business that had long been a dream.  Their son loves the new apartment and his bedroom.  Other tenants have been really warm and welcoming.  The stability and work are slowly helping them put the 4 month saga behind them.