The BLUU Northside Housing Cooperative Initiative is a project by Black Lives of Unitarian Universalism (BLUU), which is building twenty-four multifamily housing units on eight sites in North Minneapolis, a historically Black area. The homes will be purchased by Black and Indigenous families, who will have ownership in the cooperative and manage it.
BLUU, based in Minneapolis, began the project in 2019 and is partnering with Urban Homeworks, an equitable housing nonprofit, and others, including Black-led businesses. It is scheduled to break ground in the spring of 2023 on the first three units. UU World talked to BLUU Executive Director Lena K Gardner about the project.
Who is this initiative for and what is the goal?
We’re trying to offer Black and Indigenous single mothers perpetually affordable, high-quality housing in their own neighborhood. This project targets families who are at 60 percent area median income.
What kind of impact will the project have?
Wealth and housing disparities are so high in Minnesota that, upon completion, this project will have a statistically significant impact on housing racial disparities in this state. And we’re talking about twenty-four units of housing. That’s how dire things are here.
What will the homes look like, and how much will they cost?
The units are brand-new, 1,700-square-foot, four-bedroom row homes. They will sell for around $184,000 each.
How does this project fit into BLUU’s values?
"The goal is to create perpetually affordable housing in the City of Minneapolis for Black and Indigenous families."
It fits into BLUU’s work under our umbrella of justice-making and liberation through our faith, which we see as connected to making changes to the material conditions that Black folks face in the world [including] housing insecurity. The goal is to create perpetually affordable housing in the City of Minneapolis for Black and Indigenous families. Education, access to healthcare, all of these things increase when you have secure and stable affordable housing. It creates stabilization within families and opportunities for healthy growth and development of children. We see this as a way to really help grow and stabilize healthy families.
Does Minneapolis, like so many communities, have systemic racism that affects home ownership for Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) families?
Minneapolis has a really long history, and it’s not even a history, it’s actually a present-day reality of redlining. Wells Fargo Bank was just recently sued here, and Black families won a case for discrimination on home loans. Black families are still discriminated against in the lending and credit process.
How do historic disparities affect BIPOC families’ ability to buy homes today?
"That generational wealth, when you follow it through the generations, was directly stolen from Black people through forced labor, through enslavement, and from Indigenous families [due to] genocide and land theft."
In order to buy a single-family home, you need three things: Credit history, good income, and a down payment. White families [often] get down payment assistance from their families’ generational wealth that’s passed down. That generational wealth, when you follow it through the generations, was directly stolen from Black people through forced labor, through enslavement, and from Indigenous families [due to] genocide and land theft. Regarding income, we know that race-based discrimination in the workplace and gaps in pay between Black women, in particular, and even their male counterparts, and white people is a big thing. When you compound that with disparities in education and accessing higher education, which often correlates to higher incomes, you’re adding on systemic layers of inaccessibility and inequality. Then there’s that third layer, which is really important: the credit building, which is also interrelated to income and to the ability to have a down payment. Those criteria are deeply layered with systemic inequalities that stack the cards against Black and Indigenous people. The goal of this project was to try to mitigate some of those systemic factors in order to make single-family homes more accessible.
How can you keep the units affordable?
We are able to sell shares to the value of each unit for about $184,000 because, first, the City of Minneapolis’ funding allows us to sell the units at 60 percent of area median income. And second, the land is owned by a land trust for at least the next 99 years. If a family sells their home, they get to keep all of what they paid and some of the equity and the land trust keeps the rest. The limits of equity are set by state statute. The idea is that the units will be perpetually affordable, because the resale price will be much lower than for a typical single-family home.
How much will the entire project cost when all twenty-four units are finished?
We don’t know the total final cost, in part because the construction industry has seen wild swings in pricing and in supply chain issues. What I can say is that the budget for the overall project, when we started two years ago, was about $8.3 million. BLUU bought all eight sites for a total of $183,209.78. We also spend about $25,000 a year on lawn care, maintenance and snow removal, and liability insurance on the properties and taxes. When you include architect fees for the project, to date BLUU has invested $313,143.24 into the project.
Where is your funding coming from?
We have raised about $100,000 from individuals and UU congregations, and the standouts are Unity Church in St. Paul and First Universalist Church of Minneapolis. We are also receiving close to a million dollars from the City of Minneapolis in the form of a forgivable loan. They’ve been committed to helping us navigate any obstacles that come up with our land use application.
How can UUs help?
"I’m really hopeful our wider UU family can help with this. "
The best way right now is just for people to give money, honestly. At $1.3 million (for the project’s first phase), it’s just a giant project, even with the city’s contribution. Right now, the monthly payment for families is estimated at $1,858 and we want to bring that down to between $1,300–$1,500. If we are able to raise even just another $50,000–$75,000 that will save the cooperative debt service (lower amount mortgaged) and translate roughly to a $150–$300 cost reduction for families. I’m really hopeful our wider UU family can help with this.
What are you personally most excited about?
"I will say it’s a risk, and it’s a risk we wanted to take."
What really excites me is just the people. I also think that so much of justice work is a little bit intangible, so it’s also really exciting to have a concrete thing that will make a difference in people’s lives and in the community here. That just feels really powerful and impactful.
I will say it’s a risk, and it’s a risk we wanted to take. We have risk-taking as one of our central principles, which I think is something most of us don’t. [In order to change] the world that’s already here, we’re going to have to start taking more calculated risks, so we’re just trying to live into that.