The DJ Steele Construction office feels like a family member’s home. The exterior of the South Minneapolis business blends into the other neighborhood homes. As I walked in I was greeted by the warmth of two smiling faces, both asking, “Are you here for Don Jr. or Don Sr.?” Don senior was taking a lunch break catching up on a Jamaican soap opera, reminiscing about the country his family immigrated from in 1981.
Don Sr. standing proudly in the office of DJ Steele Construction
“My father was a contractor. I worked for his company and learned carpentry skills. Then I went on to trade school in Jamaica,” Don Sr. shared. Ten years after coming to America he started DJ Steele Construction, and has built a company with his wife and sons that has lasted through tough times.
Don said he could have worked for bigger construction companies, but he wanted to start something of his own, with his family. But between lack of access to capital and a constantly changing economy the road to success hasn’t been easy. Like many families of color, securing financial resources, whether for a business or a home, can be met with barriers. “We were limited in the loans we could access. We could only get $10,000 when we needed $50,000, so we had to use our own cash to pay for projects. All we needed was a fair chance,” Joyce Steel said about building the company early on.
Joyce Steele showing Don who’s boss
During the Great Recession DJ Steele Construction, like many businesses, faced the decision to cross their fingers and keep grinding or to shut down. Nobody was building and cash stopped flowing, but PRG found opportunity where there was blight. “I give credit to our business staying alive during the recession to PRG. It was scary. We made just enough to pay bills, “said Don.
PRG is driven to narrow the homeownership gap and address racial disparities by working at the invitation of neighborhoods to rehabilitate vacant houses into beautiful homes to live in, and partnering with minority owned businesses for construction contracts. “PRG made a big difference on the North Side since back in the 90’s when nobody was doing anything. I was right there with PRG doing neighborhood revitalization,” Don shared about his long-lasting relationship with PRG.
For too long our communities have faced racial disparities that divide and displace individuals, families and neighborhoods. There is no silver bullet solution to these problems, but we can take small steps to chip away at these issues and support each other along the way. PRG is proud to share strong outcomes in our collaborative equity work in 2017 including:
- Acquired 5 lender- or city-owned, single-family homes for renovation and resale to low-and moderate-income households, bringing our 8-year total to 83.
- Acquired 4 city-owned vacant lots for new construction, bringing our total Green Homes North and infill partnership with Phillips in south to 17 new homes.
- 77% of single-family construction contracts awarded in 2017 went to minority-owned business and 22% went to women-owned businesses. Over the past 8 years, PRG has awarded over $12 million in single family construction contracts with 98% going to small, minority or women owned businesses.
- Sold 11 homes, all but one purchased by households of color, and bringing the 8-year total to 92. Of these, 82% of buyers had incomes under 80 % AMI.
- Provided 88 households with high quality rental housing affordable at 50% AMI.
Don Jr., Joyce, and Don Sr.
Don said he’s always believed strongly in housing as an essential human right, and in the need for quality, affordable housing. “I take pride in owning a home and building homes for others. A home guarantees assets and a future for your kids. In Jamaica we say your home is your castle.”
Here’s to DJ Steele Construction giving an opportunity for all families to have their own castle.
“We’re saying thank you to one of the longest-running homeownership programs in the city of Minneapolis and one of the original members of the Homeownership Advisors Network: PRG, Inc.”
June is Homeownership Month! In recognition of that, the Minnesota Homeownership Center has highlighted a few partners including PRG. Erin and Mindy, two of our fabulous homeownership advisors, are interviewed in this great piece:
Homeownership Advisor Network Highlight: PRG, Inc.
Great job, Erin and Mindy! And thank you, MN HOC!
PRG’s multi-family housing development, Spirit on Lake, was the final stop on a tour of affordable housing developments during National Housing Conference’s “Solutions for Housing Communications 2017” held in Minneapolis in late April. The conference is held annually and connects housing communications professionals, affordable housing developers, and advocates from across the country.
During the tour, PRG’s Executive Director Kathy Wetzel-Mastel spoke to the NHC group about the challenges and rewards developing Spirit on Lake, the first in the nation to serve the aging LGBTQ community. The affordable housing facility was completed in 2015 and is fully leased up. Located on Lake Street in Minneapolis, the property is also home to a growing immigrant community.
Tour-goers also got a peek at the ground floor space belonging to Quatrefoil Library which collects and circulates gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and queer materials and information.
On Thursday, March 16, 2017, President Trump released his proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year. In addition to cuts that broadly impact social services, the arts, environment, agriculture, and education, the budget also includes a $6.2 billion cut to HUD (U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development).
This proposed budget will have deep and lasting impacts on neighborhoods and families throughout the country. It would eliminate a variety of vital HUD programs including two that directly affect PRG’s work. The HOME Investment Partnerships Program supports our affordable housing development, and Section 4 Capacity Building for Community Development and Affordable Housing provides much-needed operating support for our housing programs.
As is often the case, these program cuts will disproportionately impact communities of color and low-income communities. PRG, a recipient of HUD funding, has always worked to improve neighborhoods and communities on the local level.
Last year, PRG:
- Provided free foreclosure prevention counseling to 50 families, helping 73% of these avoid foreclosure
- Prepared 360 households for first-time homeownership with homebuyer education workshops
- Awarded 88% of our construction contracts to minority-owned businesses, impacting the local economy
- Sold 90% of PRG-developed homes to households of color
To continue doing this important work, we need your help to spread the word about the importance of protecting critical resources for affordable housing.
What you can do:
- Contact your elected representatives. Call or send postcards. Find contact information for:
- Donate to PRG. From $5 to $500, your tax-deductible gift in any amount helps.
- Share your PRG story. Tell us how PRG has impacted you, your neighborhood, or your community.
- What did you learn at HomeStretch?
- Do you live in a PRG-developed home? Can you share a picture of your house?
- Has Mindy or Thandisizwe or Erin helped you on your journey?
- Let your voice be heard.
Some of the original PRG founders
As PRG closed out its 40th anniversary year, we hosted an open house on Thursday, Feb. 23. More than 75 people attended and many original founders and early board and staff members joined us. Founding PRG board member Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin spoke about the importance of PRG’s legacy of supporting families through housing.
Other speakers at the event included Barbara Satin, Assistant Faith Work Director for The National LGBTQ Task Force; Dante Coleman, PRG homeowner and board member; and PRG’s own homeownership advisor Thandiswzwe Jackson-Nisan who performed poetry.
James Avenue home
While eating, drinking, and listening to the inspirational words of our speakers, attendees fell in love with the recently-completed home that was the site of the open house. The house on James Avenue North was built by PRG as part the Green Homes North Program and is one of eight built by PRG in the area over the past three years.
The 3-bedroom, 3-bathroom house is 1750 finished square feet. The house was designed by Jordan neighborhood resident Chic Hanssen (who was in attendance) and was built to Minnesota Green Communities
and Energy Star requirements.
Thanks to everyone who helped us celebrate our anniversary and for all the generous donations and support we’ve received throughout this past year. Here’s to another 40 years!
Explore the past 40 years of PRG by clicking the arrows to move through the timeline or use your mouse to zoom in and out.
In 1990, the corner of 32nd and Bloomington in South Minneapolis was well-known to law enforcement. Some described the block of fourplexes as a “mini-slum,” and the area had been the site of violence, illegal activity, and drive-by shootings.
So when PRG partnered with concerned neighbors to rehab the lot, area residents were enthralled by the demolition of the property.
What was built in its place were 12 two-bedroom units, each available to low-income families. The Linden Place project helped to revitalize the surrounding neighborhood by decreasing the density (from 100 to approximately 36), increasing green space and trees, and the addition of yards for children to play in.
In 1991, Linden Place was a finalist for a CUE (Committee on Urban Environment) Award in the Making Our Neighborhoods Better Places category.
As the state’s second largest recipient of funds to provide pre-purchase counseling and homebuyer education, PRG helps to turn prospective buyers into home owners and to address the racial home ownership gap. A recent survey of PRG clients tells us more about the impact of our work in these services.
According to the survey, an estimated 300 households of color purchased homes after using PRG’s pre-purchase counseling and homebuyer education services over the past three years. This is important because for most middle-income Americans, their home is their primary asset, and access to home ownership allows households to build wealth.
In Minnesota, where the racial home ownership gap is one of the worst in the nation (the overall home ownership rate is 70%, but for households of color, the rate is 41%), housing counseling and education helps buyers overcome barriers (such as first generation and first time home buyers, buyers in neighborhoods disproportionately affected by the foreclosure crisis) that often represent systemic racial inequities. When combined with the fact that 73% of PRG-developed homes are purchased by households of color, we are making a real dent in the home ownership gap.
If you’ve purchased a home, you know how bumpy the road to home ownership can be, and PRG’s housing-related services help people dreaming of home ownership navigate the complexities of home buying.
In 2015 PRG has made a big commitment to improving our policies and practices to meet our long-held goal of being a truly diverse, inclusive, and culturally competent organization.
In June, we asked 60+ partners, clients, homebuyers, contractors, and other external stakeholders to reflect on their interactions with PRG and give frank and detailed input about how well we’re doing in this area. We gathered survey responses, then followed up by hosting a dinner to debrief on the survey results with many of the respondents.
Respondents identified PRG as having strong social capital—being welcoming and trusted—but also identified several areas for improvement.
The PRG board has now prioritized a list of actions we’ll be taking—starting right now, and continuing for the next several years—to make meaningful and measurable improvements. Top of the list is to ensure that the PRG board of directors—those who get to frame the issues and responses—reflects the diversity of the people and communities we serve. We’re changing the way we do board recruitment, improving our orientation process for new board members, and aiming to double the size of the board before the end of 2015.
We’ll be keeping our friends and partners updated on our work in this area via our newsletter and website in the months and years to come.For a copy of the survey results—or if you’re interested in exploring PRG board service—contact Executive Director Kathy Wetzel-Mastel by email
or at (612) 721-7556, ext. 16.
The big old house on Lyndale Avenue north sat vacant for six years, looking for too long like this:
Neighbors worried about the house: how much further it would fall into disrepair, whether it would become a site of crime and vandalism. When PRG purchased the house and began work on renovating it, people were vocal about their relief. Neighbors posted in the Old North Minneapolis Facebook group:
“2719 Lyndale Ave. N. is being extensively renovated right now! We have been waiting six years, but it’s finally happening!”
“The great thing about PRG doing it is that they intend to restore the original exterior….The exterior is all that remains that is original, but a fabulous exterior it is.”
Today, the house looks like this:
(note on buyer or sale).
This renovation and affordable resale was made possible by project funding and financing from the City of Minneapolis / CPED, Minnesota Housing, and Twin Cities Community Land Bank.
Since our start in 1976, PRG has built over 600 affordable homes that fit. We’ve had a hand in shelters for women escaping domestic violence; apartments tailored to the living styles of southeast Asian immigrants; welcoming housing for GLBT seniors; and many, many single-family homes that look and feel great to the people who live in and around them.
We celebrated 600 in April with an open house for neighbors and partners at one of our latest rehabbed single-family homes. This house had been through foreclosure and sat vacant; the rehab work gave it some great updates that make it an excellent opportunity for affordable home ownership.
The rehab work on this home also brought something else important to the neighborhood: jobs. The contractor who did the work on the house, D & J Steele, is a small business owned and operated by a family of color; their headquarters is just a few blocks away.
The building is finished, the first residents have moved in, and Quatrefoil Library will begin the move into its new home on the ground floor next month.
Spirit on Lake‘s affordable apartments are the result of many years of work, innovation, and generosity, initiated and sustained by GLBT Generations, and co-created by Living Table UCC, PRG, Inc., and Everwood Development. Open to all, the community is and will be a truly welcoming place for GLBT elders.
We’ll be sharing more soon about a late October grand opening celebration.
For now, drive by 13th and Lake for a peek at the beautiful new building, and join us in thanking the project funders who made this possible: The City of Minneapolis, City Real Estate Advisors, Family Housing Fund, Greater Metropolitan Housing Corporation, Hennepin County, Living Table UCC, Metropolitan Council, Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, Minnesota Housing, US Bank, and Twin Cities LISC.
… and over $23.4 million saved for our community.
Friends and supporters of PRG gathered last week to celebrate the 30th buyer of a home rehabbed by PRG using Neighborhood Stabilization Program funding. Congratulations to new homeowner Tarryen and thank you to City Council President Barb Johnson for coming out to tour the home and help us celebrate.
On PRG-rehabbed houses in Minneapolis, 50% of skilled and 79% of unskilled labor has been done by workers of color, many of them residents of Minneapolis.
That means hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in significant economic opportunities for the people and communities most negatively affected by the recession.
By proactively advertising work opportunities to contractors who are Minneapolis residents and people of color—and by working supportively with small business owners—PRG adds another bottom line to our mission-driven work. The product of housing redevelopment stabilizes neighborhoods and helps families prosper. The process—the work itself—does the same for those whose skills and labor make that physical redevelopment possible, so more dollars stay in the community they’re intended to benefit.
A bright, loud THANK YOU to the 57 people who gave to PRG in November. We raised $3850, exceeding our goal to take advantage of all available matching funds … meaning we brought in a total of $7350 toward our free foreclosure counseling, homebuyer education, and affordable rehab of foreclosed homes.
Our thanks to Ned Foster and Laura Tiffany and the Kopp Family Foundation for their generous offer of matching gifts.
PRG entered November with a challenge from two generous supporters: raise $35oo, and receive a 100% match, for a total of $7000 this month toward our work to prevent foreclosures, counsel new homebuyers, and rehab vacant, foreclosed homes.
Generous gifts from 37 donors has put us within reach of that goal, and your support—at any level, from $10 on up—will get us there. Please help make sure we receive all of the available matching funds by giving today. THANK YOU!
With the help of CURA, we recently put together this map showing how many PRG clients in Minneapolis have been able to avoid foreclosure over the past couple of years (the map covers the period from January 2009 through October 2011).
It’s great to see visual evidence of what our counselors see every day: our services make a difference for families and neighborhoods.
We talk a lot about the benefits of stable, affordable homes for families and neighborhoods. Here’s another upside to our work, one that we rarely hear discussed: jobs.
Over the past two years, PRG has awarded over $2.25 million in construction contracts. Of the workforce hired to do these jobs, 91% of unskilled and 46% of skilled workers have been people of color, and many have been Minneapolis residents. So, by putting dollars to use for strong communities and stable families, we’re not only making great places to live; we’re making great places to work, and keeping those dollars in the community in multiple ways.
In October, Assistant HUD secretary Mercedes Marquez and other HUD officials toured north Minneapolis, looking at newly rehabbed homes funded through the federal Neighborhood Stabilization Program.
Among the speakers at this PRG-rehabbed home in the Jordan neighborhood was Don Steele, the contractor who completed the rehab work on this home, as well as the family who will purchase the home, Mayor R.T. Rybak, Assistant Secretary Marquez, and local HUD officials.
PRG’s donors always make a big difference. We are a staff of nine people, a few dozen supporters like you, and every year we see big results for families and communities. In 2010 we:
- served 233 families with free foreclosure counseling. Most of our clients have low or very low incomes.
- had a very high rate—over 80%—of success helping clients avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes.
- taught 355 families the basics of home ownership in our homebuyer workshops.
- provided free, individualized homebuyer counseling to 162 households, assisting them in making plans to move towards successful home ownership.
- acquired for rehab 16 foreclosed single-family homes in low-income neighborhoods that have requested our assistance.
- affordably sold 8 rehabbed homes to families with low incomes.
Give this month, and you’ll make twice the difference. Generous matching grants from the Kopp Family Foundation and from Ned Foster and Laura Tiffany will double all gifts made to PRG this month, up to a total of $3,500.
And as an extra thank you for helping us take advantage of this extraordinary matching opportunity, we’re offering prizes! Through a super deal from TechSoup Stock, every tenth donor at PRG’s GiveMN page this month will win a Flip video camera.*
Thank you for helping PRG transform life for families, homes and neighborhoods.
*The fine print: Gifts from PRG employees and board members and their immediate family members are eligible for matching, but are not eligible to win the Flip cameras. Four Flip cameras are available and will be awarded to the giver of every tenth donation received online during the month of November. Winners will be notified by email. Thank you and good luck!
Quick: Where’s this?
You may be tempted to guess the name of your favorite rural Midwestern township, but no! Those lovely cornstalks are growing in the Standish-Ericsson neighborhood of south Minneapolis, right in PRG’s back yard.
Dedicated as we are to strong, sustainable neighborhoods, we at PRG were thrilled last year when we connected with a group of gardeners from Corcoran GROWS who were looking for some nearby land to grow veggies together. We just happened to have what they were looking for: a sunny lot neighboring ours, which we’d long been wanting to put to better use than our feeble attempts at growing a lawn.
At the end of its first season, Milly’s Peace Garden is looking great. Thank you, gardeners, for bringing good, green, growing things to PRG’s block!
From my desk, I can hear foreclosure counseling clients enter the office. They say to Paul, who sits at the front desk, “I’m here for an appointment?” In their voices, I hear fear, uncertainty, sometimes embarrassment.
An hour later, one of our counselors walks with them back to the front door. Invariably, I hear the client say, “thank you.” In their voices, I hear relief, resolve. The goodbye contains a plan: Send those papers back as soon as you can. Or, I’ll call you when I hear something. They are still worried, but they know what needs to be done next, and they’re on their way to do it.
And they do it. Last year, PRG helped avert 135 foreclosures this way. There’s a great financial benefit to that. When a family can sustainably avoid foreclosure, they safeguard their long-term stability and prosperity. And each time a foreclosure is prevented, the community and government save an estimated $78,000 in lost property value and other local government expenses. Beyond the dollars, there’s the relief I hear in those voices. Families do not have to go through the stress of mortgage worries on their own; there are people here who understand and can help figure out what to do.
This is a crucial program for families and neighborhoods, and much of the financial support for it was eliminated in the recent federal budget negotiations. See the press release below from the Home Ownership Center of Minnesota, and watch this space for info on how to help ensure continued funding.
HOME OWNERSHIP COUNSELING VICTIM OF FEDERAL CUTS
Counseling to Prevent Foreclosure, Educate First-Time Homebuyers and Prevent Reverse Mortgage Scams Impacted
St. Paul, Minn. (April 12, 2011) – Federal funding for Minnesota’s housing counseling services was eliminated in last weekend’s federal budget negotiations. The cuts are set to take effect on October 1, 2011. The cuts will impact Minnesota’s network of more than 50 nonprofit and local government agencies that offer free counseling to prevent foreclosures, support first-time homebuyer education and protect reverse mortgage counseling services.
The funding, provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), has been pivotal to offering free counseling services, particularly since the foreclosure crisis began in 2007. Housing leaders continue to assess the impacts of these cuts on their ability to provide services.
“Counselors statewide have played a pivotal role in keeping more families in their homes and providing our next generation of homebuyers the unbiased information they need to make smart homeownership decisions,” said Julie Gugin, executive director of the Minnesota Home Ownership Center. “Minnesota’s housing market is just beginning to recover from the foreclosure crisis that jump-started this economic downturn, and these funding cuts will hamper counselors’ ability to help the state’s homeowners get back on their feet.
Since the start of the foreclosure crisis, Minnesota counselors have helped prevent more than 30,000 foreclosures across the state. According to an analysis by the Joint Economic Committee of Congress, each foreclosure costs taxpayers $78,000 when accounting for the total cost in lost property value, policing foreclosed properties and other local government expenses.
“Minnesota experienced close to 26,000 foreclosures last year – only slightly less than our peak number of foreclosures in 2008,” added Gugin. “These cuts will be devastating to our counselors’ ability to continue helping to prevent foreclosures and bring educated first-time homebuyers back into the housing market.”
Crews are out this morning beginning to demolish the former automotive paint shop-turned-church meeting place at 13th and Lake. As we’ve posted before, we’ve been working with Spirit of the Lakes church and GLBT Generations on a solution for some of the unique housing needs of GLBT seniors. The demolition makes way for 46 affordable apartments to serve this growing community.
On a more traditionally shiny and new note, we’re making a big delivery this morning to Toys for Tots headquarters. Thank you to all the PRG staff, partners, and neighbors who pulled together to fill a big bag with fun gifts for kids in need.