Generous support from the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation

We are grateful to the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation for a $75,000 grant to support CommonBond’s Advantage Services. Dick Schulze and his family work to improve the lives of others by partnering with organizations that support families, provide social services, and prioritize education.  With an affordable, high-quality home as the foundation, CommonBond kids are prepared to engage in our Youth Education and Advancement programs that connect young people with caring adults, critical academic supports, and safe environments to help them succeed.

This generous gift is an increase from last year to help support this critical component of our housing and services model. CommonBond’s work helps ensure that residents of all ages are supported in long-term stability and independence. With the generosity of partners like the Schulze Family Foundation, we are able to offer programs that support residents’ efforts to achieve their goals while connecting them to the community through tailored onsite programs and services provided by CommonBond staff and other partner organizations.

Thank you again to the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation for the generous support!

Action steps following press conference on tax reform

CommonBond CEO Deidre Schmidt addresses reporters and audience members at Upper Post Veterans Community

CommonBond co-hosted a press conference in November 2017 to highlight the potential impact of the proposed tax reform.

Media coverage of the event and the tax reform includes: KARE-11 TV, Finance & Commerce, and the Des Moines Register.

Here’s what’s at stake:

  • Over the past 10 years, nearly $2 billion in private activity bonds have supported the construction of more than 15,000 affordable rental homes across the state. But the House tax reform bill eliminates that vital tool.
  • Eliminating tax exempt private activity bonds would result in a loss of 3,400 affordable rental units in MN each year.
  • Nearly 800 units of affordable housing that were awarded state funding in October 2017 would be unable to move forward if this bill passes in its current form.
  • There’s still time to make sure the Senate passes a bill that continues these vital investments in our communities.

Here’s a simple script to use to urge lawmakers to STOP tax reform measures that hurt affordable housing development:

[Sen. / Rep. / Gov. name], my name is [your name] and I live in [city/state]. I am calling to ask that you stop tax reform measures that hurt the development of affordable homes. I urge you to:

  • Preserve tax exempt private activity bonds, which have been essential to the creation of more than 15,000 affordable homes in Minnesota over the past decade.
  • Preserve the Historic Tax Credit, which has leveraged $117 billion in private investment over the past 25 years.
  • Safeguard the effectiveness of the 9% Low Income Housing Tax Credit in the face of corporate tax rate reduction.
  • Invest savings from changes to the mortgage interest deduction into affordable housing rather than corporations and billionaires.

The House bill passed last week would eliminate nearly 1 million affordable rental homes nationwide over the next 10 years. Please act now to ensure tax reform invests in affordable housing and strong communities. Thank you.

 

Rep. Erik Paulsen (202) 225-2871 @RepErikPaulsen

Rep. Tom Emmer (202) 225-2331 @RepTomEmmer

Rep. Jason Lewis (202) 225-2271 @RepJasonLewis

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (202) 224-3244 @amyklobuchar

Sen. Al Franken (202) 224-5641 @alfranken

Gov. Mark Dayton (651) 201-3400 @GovMarkDayton

Family and community: a resident’s story of connecting with others

Taking care of others has always been in Donna Chacon’s nature.

“I love making sure everyone feels safe and has what they need,” said Donna, who has lived at Franklin Meadows near Milwaukee, Wis., for the past four years and is the floor captain in her apartment building.

Growing up on a farm in Beaver Dam, Wis., Donna and her five siblings spent their childhood days going to school, caring for the animals, and working the fields. Each weekend was spent with her elderly grandparents, helping with whatever they needed and providing companionship.

Donna loved the time she spent with her grandparents and knew she wanted to care for older adults as a career. After her parents sold their farm, Donna and the family moved into the city of Beaver Dam where she worked in a shoe factory for over 10 years. While Donna enjoyed her work there, she was eager to act on her childhood vision and start a career working with seniors.

When the factory closed, Donna began working at a nursing home and also worked as a companion for elderly people. She loved just being around as a friend to take them to the store, do their hair, and help with house cleaning. Donna has retired, but her caretaking continues at Franklin Meadows.

Donna’s three-year-old granddaughter now spends each weekday with her. “People call my granddaughter the mascot of Franklin Meadows,” says Donna. “She knows them all by heart.” The pair loves chatting with neighbors in the lobby, reading books, and taking naps together.

With three children, eight grandchildren, and two great grandchildren, Donna’s family is what makes her smile. Donna found out about CommonBond Communities through her son, who wanted Donna to live in a safe neighborhood and be closer to family. Previously, Donna lived in apartment building where she did not feel safe and her apartment was not well maintained.

“I don’t have to worry about anything here,” said Donna about Franklin Meadows. “It’s a comfortable place and people are very nice.” Through her work as the floor captain, Donna has become the community caretaker of the building.

She wants to make sure everyone feels as secure as she does, so she checks in with her neighbors weekly. “It’s a security blanket for everyone,” said Donna. She even goes the extra mile to make her neighbors feel cared for by writing birthday cards to every single resident on their birthday.

 

A Night to Unite for Residents in Little Canada

Across the country, National Night Out provides a wonderful opportunity for neighbors to connect with each other and build community. This year, CommonBond senior residents at Garden Terrace Commons and Apartments in Little Canada wanted to make their event extra special.

With a resident-chosen theme of “Night to Unite,” three residents co-chaired the event and helped raise more than $400 in donations. Many residents and staff members volunteered their time. About 60 people attended, including paramedics, Little Canada city officials, and a Ramsey County sheriff. Gifts were provided for children who attended the event.

“This evening was a great example of CommonBond’s focus on community building and engagement among its residents. We support residents in taking on leadership roles in their housing communities and within the broader community,” said Wanda Anstett, the onsite Advantage Services Coordinator

Perhaps most notably, the community building focus of the evening extended beyond the event itself. Residents collected donations of school supplies, which the Ramsey County Sheriff’s office distributed to children in the surrounding area. “Night to Unite” in Little Canada is a wonderful example of CommonBond residents coming together to build new connections and vibrant communities.

 

Meet CommonBond’s Inaugural Board Associates

CommonBond Communities is thrilled to welcome Jamal Adam and Lakeisha Lee as its inaugural Board Associates. CommonBond created the Board Associates initiative out of a belief that having a diversity of perspectives on our Board of Directors is vital to understanding and working with the people and communities we serve. This belief is a key component of CommonBond’s Inclusion Council charter. CommonBond also wants to expand the opportunity for influence, network building, and leadership experience to people who may not traditionally be considered for Board membership.

“We believe this program will benefit both our organization and the Associates, and will ultimately increase the nonprofit leadership talent pool in Minnesota and the Upper Midwest,” said CommonBond CEO Deidre Schmidt. “These two individuals stood out from a pool of excellent candidates because of their life experiences, their commitment to serve, and their eagerness to work with a Board mentor.”

Jamal Adam (left) is a public ally and a Dr. Josie R. Johnson Leadership Academy Fellow. He works at the University of Minnesota on CORE2025, an early outreach and cohort program focused on building a larger pipeline of academically prepared, college-ready students from multicultural backgrounds. Previously, Jamal was an associate teacher at Sankofa Underground North Academy in Minneapolis. He is a graduate of the University of Minnesota.

Lakeisha Lee (right) has worked at Hiway Federal Credit Union since 2008. She is also a mentor at Brittany’s Place, a shelter that provides a supportive environment for girls and young women, empowering them to achieve their goals and lead healthy lives. Lakeisha is also a criminal justice major at Metropolitan State University and will graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in May 2018.

 

Older Adults Put Pencil to Paper

Residents at CommonBond’s Riverview Senior Housing in Minneapolis recently participated in a drawing program, “Crossing the Line: Drawing Practices For and With the Older Adult. This took place in collaboration with The Drawing Project and engAGE, to build on the premise that embracing a whole-person approach to creative and healthy aging can be beneficial to the health and well-being of older adults.

One participant said:

“I took an art course in junior high that I loved. Thanks to EngAGE I’m dabbling in it again.”

Professional instructors led the older adults through various drawing exercises and encouraged the development of skills, techniques, and strategies, as well as continuing their personal drawing practice. The sessions included guided teaching, demonstration, application of drawing techniques, and time for personal and group reflection.

To offer this program to residents, CommonBond collaborated with EngAGE – a California nonprofit that’s expanding its reach to Minnesota – to build on the premise that embracing a whole-person approach to creative and healthy aging can be beneficial to the health and well-being of older adults. CommonBond’s first collaboration with EngAGE was through a similar storytelling initiative held early in 2017.

Two New Properties Purchased to Preserve Affordable Housing

Exterior of beige building, with orange flowers in the foreground
Rainbow Plaza (Anoka)

CommonBond Communities recently purchased two existing apartment buildings in the Twin Cities and is preserving them as affordable housing options for residents.

Pine Point, a 68-unit apartment building in Coon Rapids, Minn., and Rainbow Plaza, a 108-unit building in Anoka, Minn., were part of CommonBond’s initiative to preserve affordability without government subsidy. CommonBond will buy properties sometimes referred to as naturally occurring affordable housing (NOAH) with a goal of minimizing rent increases and resident displacement. CommonBond is able to accomplish this by achieving a price below the appraised value, and/or with financing with low-cost sources who are interested in the mission of affordable workforce housing. An article about these two acquisitions recently appeared in the Star Tribune.

“The sale and the ability to retain these units as affordable offerings wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for the forward-thinking and generosity of the previous owners,” said Deidre Schmidt, CEO of CommonBond. “Marilyn and Jack Washburn, and their daughter, Rhonda Charboneau, the original owners and managers of the buildings since the 1980s, approached us directly to consider the purchase and agreed to a below-market price allowing us to retain affordable rents.”

The previous owners took note of CommonBond’s first NOAH acquisition of the Boulder Ridge property in Apple Valley, Minn. in August 2016, when the Maryland-based Enterprise Community Loan Fund and an anonymous local foundation provided financing that allowed CommonBond to keep rents stable. The Pine Point and Rainbow Plaza sellers were motivated to pursue a similar approach when selling – even at a time when for-profit owners are aggressively purchasing properties like this, making updates, then significantly raising rents – adding to the affordable housing crisis.

Exterior of beige building, with green grass and trees in the foreground
Pine Point (Coon Rapids)

“We just feel it’s the right thing to do,” said Jack Washburn, a Champlin, Minn. resident in his 90s. “The Twin Cities is in short supply of affordable places to live, so as we passed ownership on, it was a priority for us to work with an organization like CommonBond – making sure they didn’t suddenly become high-end properties and displace current residents. This is our way to give back to the community and do the right thing for many years to come.”

CommonBond plans to update the buildings over the next two years by making improvements to the common areas, management offices, laundry rooms, and to the units themselves. We are grateful for financing support from Freddie Mac, Mercy Housing, NHT-Enterprise, and NorthMarq Capital.

CommonBond resident thriving with support from Advantage Services staff members

Two men smiling at camera, pictured from the waist up
Salah and Ma’ad

Ma’ad came to the United States in 2015 as a refugee from Somalia. After many challenges during the transition, he’s now making great strides thanks to the support he received from CommonBond’s Advantage Services team.

Ma’ad struggled to adapt to his new life in Minnesota. He didn’t speak a lot of English, which he found challenging in many ways – he faced difficulties in school and in finding a job, which led to feelings of hopelessness.

After moving into CommonBond’s Yorkdale housing community in Edina, Ma’ad started working with Salah, an Advantage Services Coordinator. Salah supported Ma’ad in a number of ways, including assistance with completing school applications, creating emails, and updating his resume.

“Ma’ad persevered and overcame many obstacles in the past years,” says Salah.

Today, Ma’ad has graduated from high school, has a great job, plans to attend college in the fall, and is getting married this summer. Ma’ad says, “Moving into a CommonBond home and working with the Advantage Services staff has helped me tackle many things I was experiencing.” He adds that the CommonBond staff provided him with “hope and support in working toward success,” and made him feel like he was part of a family. He’s proud that he has achieved stable housing and is able to rent his own apartment and support his family.

CommonBond Resident Receives Top Honors from University of St. Catherine

Female student in white sweater and colorful head scarf stands smiling in front of a group of six other female studentsIkram Koliso, who lives at CommonBond’s Torre de San Miguel housing community in St. Paul, recently received two top honors from St. Catherine University in St. Paul. As valedictorian, Ikram graduated summa cum laude with a 4.0 cumulative GPA , and was selected as the student commencement speaker for the Baccalaureate ceremony.

A double major in social work and public health, Ikram has held several key student leadership positions. She is also the 2017 award winner of the Mary E. McCahill Award, which is presented to a senior who has consistently demonstrated outstanding leadership, academic excellence, loyalty and service to the university throughout her years at St. Kate’s.

A female student wearing a white sweater and colorful head scarf stands on the left, holding a glass award in her hand, while the university president, a woman in a shiny gray jacket, stands on the right. Both are smiling at the camera.
Ikram Koliso and ReBecca Koenig Roloff

“Ikram is a scholar and deeply engaged member of the St. Catherine community. Amazingly, she received 12 nominations for this award,” said President ReBecca Koenig Roloff, president of St. Catherine.

Supporting academic success and leadership skills among residents like Ikram is a goal of CommonBond’s supportive housing model. Brenda Petry, an Advantage Services Regional Manager for CommonBond, said, “CommonBond’s stable, safe housing, where community members have access to critical support and resources along the way, can provide such an important foundation from which individuals can launch and reach their own goals and successes. We are so thrilled for Ikram and her family, and for all of their successes and accomplishments.”

Ikram’s other achievements and awards include Abigail Quigley McCarthy Center for Women Student Leadership Awards (2015 and 2017); an Antonian Scholars Senior Honors Project Award; and induction in the Phi Alpha (social work) and Kappa Gamma Pi (Catholic leadership) honor societies.

Learn more about Ikram’s many academic and community achievements.

High School Student Receives Scholarship for Post-Secondary Use

Black and white photo of teenager wearing a white denim jacket with a black head scarf. Shown from waist up.Meet Hawa Abbajebel, a CommonBond resident and recipient of the top CommonBond Leadership Scholarship. Hawa was one of five CommonBond youth who recently received a scholarship to use for post-secondary education.

Hawa has lived in a CommonBond housing community her entire life – first at Skyline Tower in St. Paul, and then at Torre de San Miguel on St. Paul’s Westside. She just finished her junior year of high school and is excited to continue looking at colleges over the summer.

We sat down with Hawa recently to ask her more about the scholarship and her volunteer service. Her thoughtful answers quickly showed us why she’s such a deserving scholarship recipient and bright light in the community.

 

CommonBond: Which CommonBond youth programs have you participated in?

Hawa: I did Study Buddies when I was younger, and then Learning Circles. Next year I’m hoping to work with the younger kids at Torre de San Miguel.

CommonBond: How have these programs impacted your school work and what you want to do in life?

Hawa: It was really cool because the Study Buddies mentors were always really interesting people from a variety of different fields. They helped you not only do well with your homework, but also with accessing different learning opportunities in the community. The youth programs helped you to make new friends – it’s really nice to become friends with your neighbors. My younger siblings come to the Advantage Center for homework help – that’s where they’ve met most of their neighborhood friends.

CommonBond: What kind of volunteer work do you do in the community?

Hawa: In my scholarship essay, instead of listing my specific volunteer roles and hours, I wrote about how volunteering in general has played a significant role in my life. To me, it doesn’t mean just going to a certain place without getting paid and then counting the hours you were there – in every aspect of your life, wherever you are, when you have an opportunity to help someone, that’s volunteering. I admire that my parents are very giving people, so that’s what I wrote about.

I also wrote about wanting to be able to give back to this community. St. Paul is a beautiful city – all of it, including the places with a lot of poverty. There’s even beauty in the brokenness of a neighborhood, including the parts that are forgotten. I often hear other kids say they want to get rich and move out of the neighborhood they grew up in – but if you stay, and try to do better and make it a better place, that’s the kind of America that we should aspire to. As the neighborhood residents, we know what’s going to work best – the people who grew up in affordable housing communities need to become mayors and CEOs and other kinds of leaders. We have the knowledge, experience, and ideas to make communities a place where everyone can do well.

CommonBond: What do you hope to do after you graduate from high school a year from now?

Hawa: I think about colleges a lot. I’ve looked at a number of them, and will look at more this summer. Wherever I end up, I hope to stay in Minnesota because it’s home. There are so many subjects and areas I’m interested in – it’s hard to choose. I know whatever I study and whichever field I go into in the future, it will be tied to helping communities.

CommonBond: What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not studying or volunteering?

Hawa: My favorite activity is writing – especially short stories based on my own life experiences or my family’s experiences. I’d love to write a book about my family’s stories. I also like art, mostly painting and drawing. And I love skateboarding – I mostly just stay around my neighborhood because I like it here!