Edina City Council Approves Controversial Homeless Housing Project

Updated: 09/03/2014 6:52 AM
Created: 09/02/2014 10:45 PM
By: Beth McDonough

A controversial housing project for homeless young adults is moving forward in Edina after the city council voted Tuesday to approve it.

The Project, called 66 West, was the focus of a public meeting that lasted more than four hours Tuesday night. 

The city council approved a zoning request to convert a former TCF Bank near Southdale Center into a housing complex for 250 homeless young adults living in Edina, Hopkins, Bloomington and St. Louis Park.

The meeting was packed; many people wanted to weigh in, but the city set limits on how long they could speak. Opponents worried about the location and crime, but supporters say homes for the homeless actually reduce those statistics and benefit taxpayers.

Nineteen-year-old Thomas Stone grew up living on the street, which often meant a gritty life of crime.

"That’s how I grew up, doing things out here to survive,” he said. “The outcome was bad.”

It was bad enough that he went to jail for juveniles a handful of times. Stone's life improved as soon as he moved into stable housing, he said.

"I got a job, went to college, and that's what I do now," Stone said.

He attended the city council meeting to support housing for other homeless young adults. Stone lives in a complex run by the same group planning to build the 39-unit complex near France Avenue.   

Edina resident Mark Chamberlain urged council members to deny the request because of zoning laws. 

A 2012 study by the Wilder Foundation shows that for every public dollar invested in homes for the homeless, there's a $1.44 return to taxpayers, totaling $123 million a year.

"We can save a lot of money," Jose Diaz, a researcher for the Wilder Foundation, said. Diaz says the odds of being convicted of a crime drop noticeably from 48 percent to 14 percent after someone enters supportive housing.

"The neighborhood would improve right away," Diaz said.

It would mean more savings in prison costs, sparing taxpayers $16,000 per person, per year for jail. On top of that, supporters of the project say tenants will be required to pay rent and get jobs, turning them into taxpayers, too.

"That’s what we're able to do, transform someone who's in a crisis to be part of the community," said Lee Blons, head of Beacon Interfaith.

A final vote is now needed at another meeting to “rubber stamp” the project. 

The $9 million needed for the project must be raised before construction starts. Construction is expected to take 10 months.

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