Groundbreaking event Tuesday morning to celebrate the new affordable housing property, Restoring Waters. Nonprofit leaders and elected officials, including St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, lined up with hardhats, bright vests and shovels to dig up the dirt. Credit: Katelyn Vue | Sahan Journal

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On a chilly, soggy Tuesday morning outside The Collection at Highland Bridge Apartments in St. Paul, about 50 people gathered at the former site of Ford Motor Companies’ assembly plant to break ground for a new affordable-housing property, Restoring Waters. 

Nearly a decade after the sprawling plant’s demolition, elected officials and nonprofit leaders, including St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter, spoke at the news conference to celebrate years of effort and thank collaborators who helped create Restoring Waters. 

Restoring Waters will provide affordable housing and supportive services to more than 60 families facing housing instability and challenging situations. Created through a nonprofit partnership with Project for Pride in Living and Emma Norton Services, Restoring Waters will be the second property built at Highland Bridge, next to the first one, Nellie Francis Court. 

“This is the culmination of a lot of work, of a whole lot of people, over a very, very long amount of time,” Carter said. “As someone whose work on this site is all done in ties, and suits… It is just incredible. All of the work, all the progress we’re making, through snow, rain, through design, it’s just incredible.” 

“This is the culmination of a lot of work, of a whole lot of people, over a very, very long amount of time.”

St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter

The new affordable-housing property at Highland Bridge comes amid a major shortage of such housing in Minnesota, where the shortage of affordable and available housing for low-income renters is 99,661, according to National Low Income Housing Coalition data

Mike Ryan, president of the Northern Division of the construction and development firm Ryan Companies, also spoke at the news conference. He cited “headwinds and road blocks” to developing more affordable housing, such as high interest rates and rent control, as well as supply chain and labor shortages. 

“So I just want to call upon everybody in this room… to lean in with us, to get creative on how to get to the next chapter of the future out here, because there needs to be seven more of these buildings coming, and we certainly want to be part of them,” Ryan said. 

The funding sources for Restoring Waters includes $22.5 million in construction and $19.5 million in permanent financing from the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund. In addition, about $13 million dollars comes from the low-income housing tax credit, said John Errigo, director of equity investing for the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund. 

“In the last couple of months of this last year, there was some really heavy lifting,” said Paul Williams, president and CEO of Project for Pride in Living. “The city stepped up big time — big time — to really close some gaps, with interest rates rising and a lot of unexpected twists and turns. To be able to turn to a partner, and say, ‘We really need you now’ — that was really critical.”  

“The city [of St. Paul] stepped up big time—big time—to really close some gaps, with interest rates rising and a lot of unexpected twists and turns.”

Paul Williams, president and CEO of Project for Pride in Living

The design of Restoring Waters was created with “the unique lens of trauma-informed care,” said Tonya Brownlow, Emma Norton executive director. The design plan includes case management offices and a “Living Room” therapy space to serve as an alternative to emergency mental health symptoms. 

“This building is going to be a place that’s more than just where people live and work. It’s going to be a place for people to thrive,” Brownlow said. “Over the last five years, we’ve been intentionally designing the housing and spaces to recognize the needs of the future people who will be there, those who have experienced trauma and homelessness in our communities.”

Construction of Restoring Waters and Nellie Francis Court, which is a separate project, is slated to be completed late this year or early in 2024.

“I just wanted to focus on and say thank you for this wonderful opportunity and addressing the need for women like myself, who find themselves in a position that they never thought that they would be in,” said Shannon Nelson, a tenant in one of Emma Norton Services’ housing and support programs. 

“And instead of going down, I was able to go up,” Nelson said.

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Katelyn Vue is the housing reporter for Sahan Journal. She graduated in May 2022 from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. Prior to joining Sahan Journal, she was a metro reporting intern at the Star...