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Housing project for the homeless breaks ground

A fourplex is set to be constructed on Jackson Street in Brainerd, aimed at providing low-income housing for those experiencing homelessness.

Two people stand on construction site
Vicky Kinney, board chair of My Neighbor To Love Coalition, and Eric Larson, of Nor-son Construction, talk Monday, Oct. 10, 2022, about a project on Jackson Street, aimed at providing housing for those experiencing homelessness.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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BRAINERD — Oct. 10 was World Homeless Day and fittingly also the groundbreaking for a low-income housing project to combat homelessness in Brainerd.

“It’s a day to raise awareness and to try to get local communities to change their policies and address homelessness,” said Vicky Kinney, board chair of My Neighbor To Love Coalition. “And we all know we have an issue of homelessness in our area and a tremendous lack of affordable housing.”

After a few bumps in the road, Kinney is excited to move forward on this project, spearheaded by My Neighbor To Love Coalition, a nonprofit working to fight homelessness and poverty in the Brainerd lakes area.

Kinney described the road to Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony as a maze rather than a straight path, referring to opposition from city officials for her original idea, which was a supportive housing community made up of tiny homes on property between James Street and Riverside Drive.

After Planning Commission members expressed general support for the project in January, the Brainerd City Council opposed the idea on a 3-4 vote in February, sending it back to the Planning Commission for further review after Kinney submitted responses to several questions. Commission members then declined to support the proposal later that month, as did council members when it came in front of them again Feb. 27 for a final say . Officials felt the lack of a long-term facilities maintenance plan and funds for the project, along with uncertain cost estimates, deemed it too much of a risk.

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But Kinney refused to give up and now, more than half a year later, has a permit to construct a fourplex at 310 Jackson St.

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“We really feel called by God for this mission, and we know that he’s leading it and guiding it,” she said Monday. “And it’s because we care for others, and we know that each one of us — we’re all dealt a different hand. Some of us have lived a charmed life — we’ve got parents who love us. We’ve gotten all the support. Other people haven’t. They’ve experienced a lot of childhood trauma — you know, veterans coming back from war, just people that don’t have that safety net, that they were never told that they were loved. People that maybe need a little longer runway.

“And so our goal is not to give handouts and to keep people more dependent. We’re not about destroying dignity and keep giving, giving, so they’re always receiving. What we want to do is come alongside, help lift people back up so they can be givers and they can be independent and have a chance at life.”

The building will house four efficiency units, each at a little over 400 square feet in size, and each with a porch outside the front door. Kinney aims to keep rent as low as possible — perhaps in the $350-$450 a month range, or even lower. She also envisions there to be opportunities such as yard work or shoveling snow for residents to do to lower costs even further.

Rendering of a fourplex building
A rendering shows the proposed design for a fourplex housing project set to go in at 310 Jackson St. in Brainerd.
Contributed

Aside from housing those who need it, part of My Neighbor to Love’s goal is to educate against stereotypes surrounding those who are homeless.

“I think there’s just a big misunderstanding about who actually are people who are experiencing homelessness,” Kinney said. “So to be humble enough to take some time to really get to learn and be willing to learn would be huge.”

Along with the construction team at Nor-Son, Kinney hopes to have the foundation laid by Thanksgiving. The rest of the construction will depend on funding.

So far, the nonprofit has secured funding for the property and for the foundation, thanks to private donations and a $25,000 Difference Maker Grant from the Brainerd Lakes Area Community Foundation.

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“We just think it’s gonna make a big difference in our community, especially for those who have experienced homelessness,” said Karl Samp, executive director of the foundation.

Samp said the grants go to projects thought to have a significant impact on the future of the lakes area community. Grant recipients are eligible to come back to the foundation for more grants for up to two years.

Kinney estimates the project to cost a total of about $800,000.

“We’re hoping that we’ll get enough people that care enough about the project to get it built as quickly as possible,” she said. “We would be absolutely thrilled to have residents move in this winter.”

Those interested in donating to the project can do so at mntlc.org/donate or send a check made out to MNTLC to P.O. Box 58, Nisswa, MN 56468.

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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