DULUTH – Affordable priority housing for Native Americans is proposed for the western neighborhood of Morgan Park in Duluth, built along the St. Louis River.

The American Indian Community Housing Organization (AICHO) is working with developers to build 60 apartments, ranging from one to four bedrooms, with a portion dedicated to permanent, supportive housing for people experiencing homelessness. The $15.2 million project is proposed for the historic and isolated Morgan Park, which once housed the operations of US Steel. The project would include renovations to an existing building and new construction on the 3-acre property backed by woods and trails.

“This is the kind of neighborhood I want for my children, and I’m thinking of the families who will really benefit from it,” said LeAnn Littlewolf, co-executive director of AICHO, which runs the only domestic violence emergency shelter. culturally specific to the area with other supportive and affordable housing.

The city’s 2021 housing report showed growth in unused housing vouchers and a sharp drop in vacant rental units. Vacancy rates were lowest for three- and four-bedroom apartments, meaning many families need affordable housing, Littlewolf said.

Those who make up to 50% of the region’s median income will be eligible, an effort to expand housing choices for people with low-income vouchers.

While several affordable and market-priced housing projects in Duluth have recently been built or are under development, demand for single-family and rental properties remains high. Competition for less available housing has driven prices up, and the rental vacancy rate is around 2% in 2021, according to the city’s report.

AICHO’s partners are BlueLine Development, a Montana-based affordable housing developer, and BeauxSimone, a supportive housing consulting firm that works with tribes across the country. BlueLine has a purchase contract for the building.

The accommodation would use trauma-informed design, said Katie Symons, with BeauxSimone, meaning it would have safety features like a secure entrance and staffed reception, as well as nature-influenced decor like a water feature, an open layout and soothing colors. . It would also benefit from the surrounding green spaces.

It’s a relatively new design concept, Symons said, and it recognizes that many low-income residents have experienced trauma.

BlueLine’s Ashley Grant said it’s too early to know if the new construction will adjoin the old commercial building to be renovated, but expects a total of 60,000 square feet.

AICHO is raising funds for the project and will apply for federal low-income tax credits to pay for most of it. Duluth City Council will vote on a request for $300,000 next month.

AICHO is also in the design phase of a grocery store in downtown Duluth that sells native products, as well as basic groceries. (It already does this in part at a store in its downtown space.) The new store will replace the old Fourth Street Market and is part of an organization focused on food sovereignty.

Morgan Park’s new accommodation would reflect this and include food and flower gardens and a commercial kitchen, so traditional feasts, drum and pipe ceremonies and other community events could take place in its common areas. His downtown Dr. Robert Powless Cultural Center is already being used that way, hosting traditional Indigenous events as well as things like candidate forums and vaccination clinics.

A community meeting to share project updates is scheduled for Tuesday at the Morgan Park Community Center. Symons said he would address any “misconceptions” about the project, noting it was not a proposed shelter, group home or transitional housing.

“This is affordable multi-family housing for the people who need it most,” she said.

Littlewolf said AICHO welcomes feedback from residents on its plans. “We want to make sure that we are an asset to the community and good partners.”