Kira is completing coursework at Normandale Community College to earn a Food and Beverage Management Certificate while maintaining employment at Cub Foods. Jose just bought a car. He’s making on-time payments and maintaining insurance. Having his own transportation helps him maintain employment and housing. For Lexi, living at 66 West has given her the support needed to begin college. She’s in the middle of her first semester and works part time at Southdale Center YMCA.
66 West is the first project of its kind in the Twin Cities suburb of Edina, a desirable area of Minnesota. Beacon Interfaith Housing (Beacon) created an affordable housing community in a metro area struggling to meet the Metropolitan Council’s affordable housing goals, which indicated only 8 affordable rental homes were created in Edina in the prior 14 years.
After the community identified the critical need for affordable, long-term housing for unaccompanied homeless youth, Beacon and Edina Community Lutheran Church (ECLC), collaborated to plan and implement the development. ECLC played an active role in selecting the site, planning building operations and determining services provided. They enlisted local faith-based groups and community leaders to assist with development efforts. With widespread support from local community leaders and churches, the concept for 66 West was developed. The innovative concept is not to provide safety for a single night, but to provide long-term affordable housing, supportive services, and convenience to transportation and employment, while promoting upward mobility goals.
The unique, organized congregational approach Beacon took provided the groundwork to educate and organize the community, resulting in more than 225 individuals showing up at three separate city-sponsored public hearings, demanding their elected representatives support land use and funding approvals for 66 West. As a result, the Edina Mayor and City Council voted unanimously to approve land use and funding. This approach has facilitated continued efforts from the community to work with their elected leaders to become partners in creating housing and addressing detrimental community needs.
66 West features the adaptive reuse of a former bank and a new addition to create thirty-nine studio apartments in a two-story building. 15 of the 39 units are in the existing building and 24 in the new addition. Units range in size from 322 to 455 square feet with amenities including a refrigerator, range, full bathroom and central air. Development amenities include a secure entry system, elevator, exercise room, laundry rooms, lounge/multipurpose rooms, a computer lab, and onsite management and social services. Situated in an affluent western Minneapolis suburb, 66 West provides residents with access to a wealth of jobs, transit, and amenities.
Located across from Southdale Center, the first fully enclosed, climate-controlled shopping mall in the U.S., and a regional transit hub, residents live within one-third of a mile of eight bus routes. Southdale Center provides additional employment opportunities and convenient access to shopping and services. A bus stop in front of the building is served by hi-frequency transit that provides access to Downtown Minneapolis, University of Minnesota, and Mall of America over 150 times per day. There is a regular direct bus to Normandale Community College from the transit station that runs late into the evening. Fairview Hospital, a major employer two blocks away, hires dozens of people monthly for entry-level positions, and has interest in hiring residents of 66 West.
66 West is Hennepin County’s first high quality, permanent housing development with intensive services for young adults, ages 18-24, who were homeless; 21 of whom experienced long-term homelessness of one year or more. Area agencies working with the homeless estimate there are 250-300 homeless or at-risk youth living in Edina, an area known for brutal winters. In the initial group of residents, two-thirds are from western Minneapolis suburbs, where virtually no housing options for this population exist. Often, homeless are forced to sleep on the streets, in garages or on park benches.
Generous community donations supplied residents with basic necessities including housewares, bedding and toiletries. Community members volunteered to assemble furniture and ensure that each resident had everything needed to move into their new home. Residents are also invited to choose a plant and art work to make their apartment feel like home. Often, the key to their 66 West apartment is the first key these young residents have ever had to a home of their own.
Simpson Housing Services provides supportive services on-site. Their mission is to house, support and advocate for people experiencing homelessness. Simpson operates under a “Housing First” philosophy and uses an engagement model of service to offer residents programs including Family Specific Services, Housing Support, Independent Living Skills, Transportation Skills, Employment Skills, Education, Safety Skills, Legal Advocacy, Harm Reduction Strategies, Financial Management, Benefit Assistance, Self-determination/Life Satisfaction Skills, Youth Leadership Council, and Health/Mental Health Assistance. All services focus on setting and working toward personal goals in education, employment, wellness and maintaining housing stability. Each resident works with an advocate to set and pursue individual goals. Simpson and Beacon collaborate on securing funding for supportive services outside of the development operating budget.
66 West staff facilitate community-building activities and provides structure and support for collaborative planning. They host monthly community meals, a community council of residents, and life skills groups. Advocates also engage the broader community to support youth through partnerships: Southdale Center Library created and staffs a mini-library on-site; Fairview Hospital hosted an employment and job shadowing workshop; and a peer mediation program partner helps residents adjust to community living.
66 West’s young adult residents are shifting from surviving to thriving. Before moving in, many residents reported a lack of steady income and employment, but nearly all residents who have lived at 66 West for a full six months are either employed or enrolled in school. Approximately 80% of the first group of residents sustained their housing through the end of December 2017.