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A vision for the future

A Homeownership preservation program is designed to protect homes in the University District

By Adam Overland

U District house for sale at 405 se
The buyer of the house at 405 SE 5th Street in the U district's Marcy-Holmes neighborhood can receive up to a $30,000 energy-efficiency grant to improve the home at  (in addition to a $10,000 home-buyer incentive).

October 20, 2009

It's not exactly like Publishers Clearing House pulling up to your home in a van with a gigantic check in your name, but the University District Alliance* does have a house (several, in fact), and they're willing to give you money—a lot of money—to live in one.

You'll be living in a rich culture—a city within a city. And, you'll be part of a movement showing how existing neighborhoods can be re-imagined and re-tooled to meet the sustainable criteria the future demands. Each home comes with a $10,000 home-buyer incentive (pending application approval and funding availability) to help with down-payment and closing costs. One lucky homebuyer will receive up to a $30,000 energy-efficiency grant to improve the home at 405 SE 5th Street in the U district's Marcy-Holmes neighborhood (in addition to the $10,000 home-buyer incentive and—if you're a first-time home-buyer—the federal government's $8,000 tax credit).

That’s a small part of the alliance's homeownership preservation program, designed to protect homes in two of the district's five neighborhoods—Southeast Como and Marcy-Holmes—from conversion to rental and preserve them until owners move or sell. By then marketing the homes to owner occupants, the alliance aims to restore the residential core of each neighborhood.

The University District Alliance was established in 2007 after an impact study commissioned by the Minnesota legislature found that neighborhoods in the U district were losing balance as owner-occupied homes were nudged out in favor of rental properties. "There have been no projects aimed at anything but student housing in nearly a decade. We think there is another market," says Dick Gilyard, chair of the Vision and Planning team.

Through its Homeownership Preservation Program, the alliance bought options to purchase 20 neighborhood properties in target areas that seem likely to sell in the near future, when they come up for sale. "We're trying to stop the leapfrog of single family homes," says Gilyard. "[But] it’s not about limiting student housing—it's finding the right balance in a neighborhood."

In fact, the alliance believes student housing should be in the district. It supports many of those projects, particularly those such as the 198-unit Sydney Hall project near the dinkydome on University and 15th Avenue S.E. that are built close to campus with on-site management.

Neighborhood in the balance

The alliance pushes each home toward sustainability and energy efficiency, so that what is sold is far more efficient and sustainable than the house that was purchased.

A house being renovated at 1022 16th Avenue S.E., for example, will have a 95 percent efficient new boiler, new windows and insulation, and sustainable materials in the kitchen, says Katie Fournier, chair of the Preservation Implementation Committee. "We expect that it will be ready for purchase by December," she says.

The alliance took a different approach with the property at 405 SE 5th Street and let the owner use a $30,000 grant (to be used first toward energy efficiency improvements) and six-hours of a professional architect's time to renovate.

With the three homes the alliance now owns and an option on another 20, the alliance hopes to attract at least 15 new households in the University District, half of whom will be U employees or others who work in the district.

"We're trying to build a certain level of excitement," says Dick Poppele, cochair of the Alliance Steering Committee. He hopes the work of the alliance will have a multiplicative effect where people will see the district as a good investment and take the plunge on their own.

The alliance’s vision also includes making sure that any major new developments are sustainable and complement the neighborhood’s character and architectural diversity. Large developments at the University in the near future like the Central Corridor LRT, the Biomedical Research and East Gateway area, and the Science Teaching and Student Services Building will bring jobs and likely further developments.

"We have a lot of developers right now looking at areas along the light rail and along the river and proposing projects. We would like to be in the position to have already thought this through and have potential development plans so we can present to developers,'" says Poppele.

For more information, a Live Near Your Work Web site promotes homeownership in the U district to those who work here. The site also provides listings of homes for sale.

An Aug. 15 workshop (a summary of which is posted online) was held to more fully engage and involve the alliance with expertise at the University. The alliance is beginning to work with the College of Design and the Center for Sustainable Building Research. For more information, see workshop.

*The University District Partnership Alliance is made up of interested and committed people from the U District neighborhoods of Marcy-Holmes, Prospect Park, Southeast Como, and West Bank/ Cedar-Riverside, business associations, University student government, the City of Minneapolis, Augsburg College, and the University of Minnesota Minneapolis campus and neighborhood.