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Belfry Apartments: deep housing affordability in the heart of Minneapolis

church by calvary apartments

Belfry Apartments, near George Floyd Square in South Minneapolis. 

Belfry Apartments sits one block south of George Floyd Square in Minneapolis. Over the past few years, the neighborhood has been hard-hit by civil unrest and economic recession. But community partners—like Calvary Lutheran Church—have been dedicated to providing resources like a food shelf and gathering spaces for people who are struggling. And now, the legacy of community-centered support continues with the creation of 41 new units of deeply affordable housing at the site.

Hennepin County’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) provided a deferred loan of $5.88 million for Belfry, the largest source of deferred financing, which allowed the project to not only close a year faster than is typical, but to support additional community amenities alongside affordability. 15 of the units will receive ongoing rental assistance and support service funding through the county’s Housing Support program and are leased to people coming out of homelessness through the Hennepin Coordinated Entry System, supported by Simpson Housing Services. Thanks to the hard work of all involved, it only took 16 days for these units to be fully leased up with people exiting high priority homeless settings.

Trellis, a local affordable housing developer and owner, partnered with the church and the neighborhood to reimagine the site. Now both a center for community services and affordable housing, Trellis converted the existing church building into housing, gathering spaces, and an on-site food shelf. They also expanded the building footprint for additional affordable housing—21 units are inside the existing church building, while 20 units are located in the new building next to the church.

Belfry combines the historic elements of the former church and makes the space a comfortable and amenity-rich home for the new tenants. Stained glass remains in the sanctuary, and pews have been reused for gathering spaces. The striking brick belltower still stands as a monument to the church’s past. 

stained glass in the church

build of calvary apartments

Belfry Apartments under construction in 2023. 21 rental units are inside the existing church building, while 20 units are located in the new building next to the church.

Belfry Apartments is a beautiful place to call home—and an affordable one. In response to neighborhood input, all 41 units will be reserved for and affordable to households at or below 30% of the Area Median Income (AMI). That translates to about $33,000 a year for a family of three. Creating a new housing project in which all units are so deeply affordable is a rare and difficult to meet accomplishment that was made possible through the funding from Hennepin County’s HRA.

The HRA approved the funding for Belfry Apartments (then known as Calvary Apartments) in May 2022 with a specific goal of speeding up the development cycle. As hoped, the financing for the project closed only six months later, in October 2022. This lightning-fast speed allowed Trellis to finish converting the church months, if not years, faster than usual, with the apartments opening in early 2024. 

“It typically takes round after funding round, taking maybe five years for such a complex project,” said Elizabeth Flannery, CEO of Trellis. “I get goosebumps when I think about it.”

"Without Hennepin County, we might still be fundraising,” added Dan Walsh, Vice President of Housing Development at Trellis. “It's really because of the county that this project was possible." 

angela conley cutting grand opening tape

angela conley speaking at the podium

Commissioner Angela Conley speaking and celebrating with community partners at the grand opening of Belfry Apartments in January 2024.

The recovery funding that Hennepin County received through the American Rescue Plan act allowed the county to accelerate existing strategies, while at the same time look for opportunities to make a lasting impact on neighborhoods most impacted by the pandemic and civil unrest.

This award was only one of several major investments the HRA made in 2022, totaling more than $55 million in funding awards to 50 projects across the county which will create and preserve 3,600 affordable housing units.

Belfry Apartments stands apart as a promising example of what’s possible in affordable housing.

“The Belfry Apartments project makes us all really proud of the authentic community engagement from Trellis and Calvary Church,” said Julia Welle Ayres, Director of Housing Finance at Hennepin County. “It was an epic accomplishment to create this level of affordability. And now there will be a permanent community amenity created for this jewel of a neighborhood.”