Erin Hanafin Berg, Policy Director
Photos by Philip Prowse/National Trust for Historic Preservation
A recent article in the Minnesota Reformer about the Fort Snelling Upper Post points to the per-unit cost as a critique of the affordable housing development planned for 26 historic buildings remaining at the site. While it is a good article about a complex project, we think it’s worth emphasizing and clarifying a few points that were raised.
Historic Tax Credits will cover 40% of the cost of rehabilitating the buildings and making them suitable for habitation. If this wasn't a historic preservation project, there would be a 40% funding gap. How else would that be filled?
As Commissioner Debbie Goettel pointed out at the Hennepin County Housing and Redevelopment Authority meeting earlier this week, this site has been vacant for decades and has never before had a viable development proposal. Private development will also result in Hennepin County property taxes paid on this site for the first time ever.
Commissioner Jeff Johnson noted that he had voted against the Pillsbury A Mill rehabilitation years ago, but said he supported this project because it's already publicly owned. Minnesotans will have to pay for what happens at this site one way or another. Either we help dedicate tax dollars to helping get the buildings back in use or we're stuck paying for demolition.
And what benefit would there be in demolition? None. Reusing existing buildings made with old-growth materials is far more sustainable than expending more carbon to cart them to a landfill.
The developer, Dominium, has committed to retaining these buildings as affordable for 30 years. At the end of that time period, the Fort Snelling Upper Post project will be considered an "old" project. The kinds of wear-and-tear that result from thirty years of rental use will either require significant upgrades or will result in downward price pressure on rents. By that time, the planned Upper Post apartments may very well fall into the category of Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing, which is defined in an article in the Washington Post as “rental housing at least two decades old, short on amenities and affordable without a subsidy.”
At this particular moment in history, we need jobs and we need housing. This project will provide both, in a sustainable way that improves our environment and allows for this site to retain its historical and cultural significance.
We at Rethos support the Homes for All Coalition and hate to see preservation and affordable housing pitted against each other. We tend to be win-win and both/and. We think the Fort Snelling Upper Post project is a good one and are glad to see it moving forward.
(In case the article posted at the top was TL;DR – the Fort Snelling Upper Post is a National Historic Landmark. It has been named a National Treasure by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and was on “most endangered historic places” lists of both the National Trust and the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota in the mid-2000s. On Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020, Hennepin County Housing and Redevelopment Authority approved the final bond resolution to help fund this project on a vote of 4-3.)