How BLUU’s Innovative Housing Initiative Could Increase Black and Indigenous Homeownership in North Minneapolis

How BLUU’s Innovative Housing Initiative Could Increase Black and Indigenous Homeownership in North Minneapolis

BLUU Executive Director Lena K Gardner shares insight on the effort, which broke ground in May, and explains why this affordable housing approach reflects UU values.

Staff Writer
At a groundbreaking ceremony, a line of eight smiling people wearing construction hats stand with shovels on a vacant lot that will become an affordable housing community.

Representatives from the various partnership groups that have contributed to the BLUU (Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism) Cooperative Housing Initiative stand together during the groundbreaking ceremony held May 17, 2024, in North Minneapolis, Minnesota.

© 2024 Urban Homeworks


The community-centered Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU) Northside Housing Cooperative Initiative broke ground at a well-attended ceremony held Friday, May 17, 2024, in North Minneapolis.

When complete, the innovative effort will result in seventeen units of affordable housing for Black and Indigenous families, who will cooperatively own and manage their community. Construction is expected to take twelve to eighteen months.

It is the first of eight vacant lots in North Minnesota to be developed for this purpose.

“We hope families can move in sometime in 2026, and we also hope development on the other sites will be well underway at that point,” said BLUU Executive Director Lena K Gardner. “The sooner we can get the cooperative up to scale, the stronger it will be.”

The BLUU Cooperative launched in 2019 with the purchase of the vacant lots. Since then, BLUU and Urban Homeworks (UHW) have partnered on development and, eventually, will partner on recruiting families to move in. Additional partners include the city of Minneapolis, LISC Twin Cities, Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, Shared Capital Cooperative, and others

In this Q&A, Gardner shares more on the significance of this innovative, collaborative effort and how it relates to Unitarian Universalist values, helps residents build wealth, and reinvigorates Black and Indigenous traditions of communal living.

Moments from the BLUU Northside Housing Cooperative Initiative Groundbreaking Ceremony
Video: BLUU and Urban Homeworks Partner on Affordable Housing Initiative in North Minneapolis

The groundbreaking ceremony held May 17, 2024, celebrated the transformative opportunity made possible through collaboration with various partnerships.

Q: What is the emotional, spiritual, and/or communal significance of this groundbreaking and beginning?
A: This groundbreaking represents the boldness of bringing a vision from the dreamscape space into reality. It represents the coming together of multiple people across multiple organizations to embrace new ways of connecting and building community together. It is about dreaming of ways to challenge the culture of hyper-individualism and embrace a more collective understanding of Beloved Community. It is about trying to counter the brutality of living under capitalistic structures that have stolen wealth, labor, and land from Black and Indigenous people.

By supporting this project, people of many races, cultural backgrounds, and socioeconomic statuses are saying we recognize that the legacies of Indigenous genocide and African enslavement are still with us today, we don't like it, and we want to do something about it. Something that is about building, creating, and connecting. And living more deeply into love.

"Because we believe you only get this one life, we know some of the things we fight for won't be seen in our lifetimes—yet some of the things we build and work toward must be felt in this lifetime."

For those of us who are Unitarian Universalists, it's about living into our faith in humble but deeply impactful ways that will change the material conditions for Black and Indigenous people. At BLUU, we believe that if you are working to birth more justice into the world but the people around you, the most marginalized and oppressed, can't feel and experience a material change in the conditions of their life, then you need to reevaluate and adjust course.

Because we believe you only get this one life, we know some of the things we fight for won't be seen in our lifetimes—yet some of the things we build and work toward must be felt in this lifetime. I believe the commitment to this life, here on earth, is one of our most compelling spiritual imperatives. So, this project is trying to live into that in a very tangible and real way.

From the Archives
Q: Why is the approach of cooperative ownership and management better than other models for affordable housing?
A: Our model is a limited-equity cooperative model, which means families will be building some wealth as they are living in the cooperative. Building wealth is something that doesn't exist in much affordable rental housing because that hasn't been the model. But our approach is also about spreading out the risk, collectivizing as much of it as we can, so that the individual impact is lessened from individual families.

The primary strength of the cooperative model is strength in numbers. That's a saying for a reason, because it's true. And our project is about reconnecting and rebuilding community in a world that is after the most acute phase of the pandemic stricken by an epidemic of loneliness, disconnection, and isolation. Spreading out risk, building safety nets (our project has a reserve fund that will help families for up to three months experiencing health, employment, or other crises), and helping families building joyful, connected lives in dignified, beautiful housing.

Ours is also a project about remembering ancestral ways of doing things more collectively, more communal. This way of being in a nuclear family is a western European idea, but our cultures have existed very differently for thousands of years, and we want to revive and reconnect to some of those ways as much as we can because the world we are facing necessitates a shift.

Photo Gallery (For full captions, view on Flickr.)
BLUU and Urban Homeworks Break Ground on Affordable Housing Initiative

The BLUU (Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism) Northside Housing Cooperative Initiative groundbreaking was held May 17, 2024, in North Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Q: Minnesota has a glaring gap in homeownership when you look at data by race. Why is this an injustice/problematic?
A: First and foremost, embracing UU principles around justice, equality, and the inherent worth and dignity gap isn't just about homeownership, it's about quality of life. It's about stabilizing communities and families.

When families have access to stable, secure, clean, and dignified affordable housing it is life-changing. It can mean all the difference for these families and for entire communities. These families are actually strong, resilient, and have tremendous wealth—it's just been extracted and exploited.

After hundreds of years and decades of this, our communities need to be restored and repaired. There is an untold number of lives that have been shortened, lost, and disrupted by poverty. It doesn't have to be this way; one way to help fix what's broken is to ensure people have access to safe, affordable, dignified housing.

Q: How has Unitarian Universalism (values, organizations, etc.) contributed to this effort or taken the lead? How does UUism align with this specific effort and homeownership equity?
A: Our UU principles guide us to act in the world now for justice, equality, and in the service of honoring the inherent worth and dignity of every human. I see housing in a cooperative model not only living into the values through the building more Beloved Community and leaning into interdependence and interconnection but also in helping families build wealth, which is essential to ending inequality and creating better outcomes in all sorts of aspects of life.

It doesn't solve every problem, but it is something we can do right now with what we have.

More About How BLUU Plans to Increase Homeownership Equity

Minnesota has a larger gap in homeownership rates between white households and households of color than the United States as a whole, according to a Minnesota Compass analysis of 1990–2022 U.S. Census Bureau data.

Black homeownership in the state peaked in 1950, falling almost every decade since then, according to Urban Homeworks, which cites 2016 figures from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

BLUU says it plans to increase equity in homeownership by:

1. Creating a system of homeownership that centers community and is equitable, sustainable, and replicable;

2. Ensuring that each home is truly affordable;

3. Transforming access to wealth-building and community stabilization through cooperative homeownership.

Additional information on the BLUU Housing Cooperative Initiative is available at