Aging Minneapolis Church Revitalized as Affordable Housing Near George Floyd Square

Just a few years ago, Calvary Lutheran was facing an uncertain future. The church, which was built in 1930, and its adjacent Sunday school building were in desperate need of repairs, with a million dollars...

Just a few years ago, Calvary Lutheran was facing an uncertain future. The church, which was built in 1930, and its adjacent Sunday school building were in desperate need of repairs, with a million dollars in deferred maintenance. However, in a remarkable transformation, the aging church in south Minneapolis has been converted into dozens of affordable homes for people with modest incomes.

On Thursday, city leaders gathered to celebrate the opening of the Belfry Apartments near George Floyd Square. Not only does this project provide much-needed housing, it also allows the church's congregation to remain in their beloved community with a newly renovated worship space.

The situation looked grim for the church congregation before this redevelopment. Funds were depleting rapidly, and they were left with few options. Sarah Shepherd, the church council president, explained that they had considered moving, merging with another congregation, or closing altogether.

But Calvary Lutheran took a different path. The congregation had a strong desire to stay at their current location on 39th Street and Chicago Avenue, continuing their important social outreach work, including operating a food shelf for decades.

Through their connection with the Minneapolis-based nonprofit developer Trellis, the church found a solution. Trellis promised to build affordable apartments for individuals and families earning 30 percent or less of the area median income, or approximately $37,250 a year for a family of four in the Twin Cities.

Calvary's founders signed the contracts to build the church on the cusp of the Great Depression. Nearly a century later, Shepherd said securing a future for the congregation required a similar leap of faith. "We made the decision to sell the entire campus to Trellis when we did not have a plan for ourselves and we didn't know where to go."

The $15 million project was funded through various sources, including tax credits, the Minneapolis Affordable Housing Trust Fund, and Public Housing Authority Section 8 vouchers. The result is the Belfry Apartments, which offer a range of housing options to meet the diverse needs of the community.

Talicha Whitmore, who grew up just blocks away from Calvary Lutheran, is among the 41 new tenants at the Belfry Apartments. For over 20 years, she has worked at a school cafeteria in Bloomington. However, the rising cost of living forced her to move back in with her mother a decade ago.

Whitmore stumbled upon the construction site one day while out for a walk. At first, she assumed the project was for luxury apartments, but she decided to call the number on the sign anyway. From that moment, things moved swiftly. She received a call back the day before Thanksgiving and received the keys to her new apartment a week before Christmas. Whitmore and her 10-year-old daughter Brooklyn are still in the process of settling into their new home, with toys from their previous residence to be moved.

The Belfry Apartments comprise both the converted church and the old school building, with an additional new building next door. Fifteen units are reserved for individuals facing homelessness or with disabilities. The sanctuary of the church has been renovated and now serves as a community room for the tenants during the week. On Sundays, the Calvary Lutheran congregation leases back the space for their worship services. In addition, the church's food shelf remains intact and now features a freight elevator capable of accommodating full pallets of donations.

Andrea Jenkins, the Council Member representing the area, emphasized the project's seamless integration into the neighborhood. There was no pushback from neighbors, and the development fulfills one of the key demands made by activists after George Floyd's murder in 2020: affordable housing in the community. "And not just affordable housing, but deeply affordable housing, and that's exactly what we have here today," Jenkins said.

Mayor Jacob Frey commended the city's progress in building affordable housing but acknowledged that much more work remains to be done. He described the Belfry Apartments as a tremendous step in the right direction and expressed the need for additional deeply affordable housing throughout Minneapolis and the surrounding region.

The nonprofit developer Trellis hopes that the Belfry Apartments will serve as a model for future projects and inspire others to follow suit. By repurposing aging churches and other underutilized spaces, communities have the opportunity to address the pressing issue of affordable housing while preserving the rich history and character of their neighborhoods.

Six people cut a ceremonial ribbon with novelty scissors Six people cut a ceremonial ribbon with novelty scissors

A Black woman closes her eyes as she stands at a podium A Black woman closes her eyes as she stands at a podium

People fill a large sanctuary room People fill a large sanctuary room

In conclusion, the revitalization of the aging Minneapolis church into affordable housing near George Floyd Square not only provides much-needed homes for individuals and families with modest incomes but also allows the church congregation to continue their social outreach work. This innovative project demonstrates the power of collaboration between religious institutions and nonprofit developers to address the pressing issue of affordable housing. With continued efforts and commitment from both the public and private sectors, more communities can be transformed, ensuring that everyone has access to safe and affordable housing.

1