The residents of Amber Apartments are ready for the next step.
They don’t need a homeless shelter, sober house or other intensive supports. They just need affordable housing.
That’s exactly what Amber Apartments was built to offer.
It’s a “very affordable” apartment building at 4527 Hiawatha Ave. for low-wage earners who cannot afford market rate rents.
Those who qualify for rental assistance through the Minnesota Housing Support program will pay only $566 plus $30 in utilities for a studio unit at the recently opened Amber Apartments.
Over 800 people have applied for 80 units.
Residents are being picked through a lottery process and are moving in on a staggered schedule as the site gets fully up and running. The first residents moved in on Nov. 28, with another batch each month after. The building is expected to be full by the end of March 2022.
“When there are 10 people applying for one available unit, I think that really speaks to the intensive need,” observed RS Eden Development and Communication Manager Jim Seas. “In Minnesota, 21,000 people are homeless on any given night. It really speaks to the lack of affordable housing.”
There are 22 subsidized apartments in the five-story, 52,178-square-foot building that is operated by RS Eden. Three are market-rate at $900, and the others are on a sliding scale based on the tenant’s income. This compares to an average rate of $1,650 in Minneapolis and $1,400 in St. Paul, pointed out Seas.
The current definition of “affordable” (30% of a person’s income) can be out of reach for many people. To afford rent payments of $700-$900 a person must make between $2,100-2,800 a month.
Amber Apartments offers low barrier housing, is felony friendly, and provides a place for people who can’t pass a background check. “It offers a way to build rental history, have stability and not live in a car,” explained Jessie Johnson, who supervises eight RS Eden buildings in Minneapolis and St. Paul. She appreciates the people she comes in contact with through her job. “These are some of the best folks to know,” Johnson said. “They’re very appreciative of where they’re at.”
The facility offers supportive housing services aimed at the problems that contribute to homelessness, including addiction, mental health issues, lack of education, and more.
Ricky Rains signed the lease agreement on Jan. 19, and planned to start moving stuff in the next day before his weekend night shifts began. He’s coming from a sober house in Minneapolis, and has lived in the Longfellow area before. He’s been sober for 12 years.
“I’d like to offer an AA group here,” remarked Rains, who works full-time.
Rains is grateful for the lower rental rates at Amber Apartments.
His favorite things about his new apartment? The large walk-in closet and sliding barn door.
A place to reset
Although she’s worked at RS Eden for nearly 16 years, Kristin Quinlan says Amber Apartments is a new challenge for her. It will offer a different level of support for residents than the other RS buildings, as it is geared towards bridging the gap for people who are working, but still don’t make enough to afford a standard rent payment.
“We see so many different walks of life,” she remarked. Some folks who live at Amber Apartments might need the front desk, while others don’t need accountablity but just need affordable rent. RS Eden seeks to give each individual the services they need, and cater things as needs change. Some have family connections and others don’t. Some have a support network. Others don’t. Some have outside case managers.
Some residents come in with a mindset that they’re not good enough, observed Seas. At Amber Apartments, they can reset.
Ground officially broke on Oct. 21, 2020 at the former Bell Laboratory building site. Frerichs Construction oversaw the $18 million project. Amber Apartments is being named after former RS Eden CEO Dan Cain’s daughter as a legacy project to honor the 46 years he was with the organization. Amber Cain lives near Diamond Lake in South Minneapolis.
RS Eden plans to hold a grand opening in April 2022. There are 20 units on each floor. The main level houses offices, meeting rooms, laundry, bike storage, and a caretaker’s apartment.
Each level has an area near the stairwell and elevator that is currently undesignated space. The plan is to ask residents what they want, which may be exercise equipment, library shelves, fooseball tables, or seating areas.
The 418 to 462-square-foot units have a kitchen space with a stove and refrigerator, walk-in closet, bathroom with an ample closet and sliding barn door, easy-clean laminate flooring, and their own heating and cooling unit.
Planners were intentional about the location of Amber Apartments, knowing that most of the residents would not own cars. The building sits across Hiawatha from the 46th street Light Rail and bus stop, which connects to the BRT A Line into St. Paul. It is next to the Walgreen's pharmacy and near a Cub grocery store. There’s a plan to develop the Min Hi Line trail in the rear of the building along the railroad tracks, and existing trails around Minnehaha Park.
For those in the 22 subsidized units, they get a little extra – courtesy of donations from a dozen local Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint congegations. They purchased beds, tables and chairs to fill the studio apartments. Plus, they donated welcome baskets with items such as a shower curtain and bed sheets.
“Imagine if you’re come from having nothing,” said Seas. “All of these things are here waiting for them when they come. It shows a level of respect. They can start with brand new things incurring a sense of pride.”
He added, “We’re excited about what the future holds for RS Eden. We continue to evolve not only for the needs of our clients but for what the community needs.”
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