The Philanthropy Collaborative

Regional Case Studies

Project for Pride in Living
Minneapolis / St. Paul, Minnesota

The Project for Pride in Living (PPL), which specializes in housing assistance, was started by Joseph Selvaggio, a former Catholic priest, in the early 1970s. Forty years later, the program operates 1,014 affordable rental units in the Twin Cities, and has built or rehabbed over 2,000 single and multi-family units over the life of the program. Properties either tend to be in poorer neighborhoods acquired in bad repair, purchased from absentee landlords and refurbished or newly constructed multi-family buildings, to provide low-income families and individuals safe and stable housing opportunities.

PPL tenants typically pay roughly one-third of their income for rent, the federal definition of affordable housing. "If you're paying 60, 70, 80 percent of your income for your rent, you're bound to screw up your family," Selvaggio said in a 1991 interview.

Steve Cramer, PPL's current CEO, notes that PPL provides a wide range of supportive services through their housing facilities to make sure residents can build a stronger financial future for themselves and their families. "The support services are relationship based," Cramer said. "We're serving chronically homeless families and low-income working families, and they all need different kinds of support. But because we have close relationships with the families we serve, we're able to provide tailored, one-on-one services." Approximately 90% of PPL's tenants are single parents, 60 percent are on public assistance and most are minorities.

In February 1992, PPL broke ground on a $1.6 million neighborhood commercial retail center, which included a 4,000 square foot general store, an oriental grocery, a Subway, a doughnut shop and a children's equipment store and a beauty salon. The facility, called Chicago Crossing, is still operational today. Another commercial development that furthered PPL's community impact is Mercado Centrale, a business incubator focused on Latino businesses and serving recent immigrants. Mercado Centrale and has housed several successful businesses that have spun off into their own facilities.

PPL is also engaged in workforce development and hands on job training, directly employing between 60 and 65 people at a local retail outlet and a light assembling facility. Trainees are taught how to work with various plastics, assemble point-of-purchase displays, electrical components and plugs, and other skills like collating, labeling, kitting, and packaging. In recent years, there has also been an added emphasis on training workers in a wide-range of recycling initiatives.

The two businesses have combined annual revenue of approximately $2.5 million. "We hire folks for nine to 18 months, and then help them find their next job," said Cramer. "By the time they leave us, they've developed a set of vocational skills that will serve them wherever they end up - and every dollar we make goes right back into the business."

In addition to the hands on job training that employees get through PPL's two businesses, PPL offers classroom-based training in health care and finance at the PPL Learning Center. This training has helped PPL place about 900 people in full time jobs over the past 15 years. At the Center, PPL also provides work readiness programs and services.

Cramer notes that PPL's programs aren't just reaching out to adults - they're touching children as well. "We're a charter school sponsor for three schools, and run alternative school programs. All of the schools that we are associated with educate about 800 kids every year," Cramer said. "They're not succeeding in regular schools, but many of them thrive in the intimate learning environment we provide. PPL provides afterschool programs that serve about 600 kids each year as well. We're trying to reach out to these families on every level."

In recent years, the Project for Pride in Living has become increasingly innovative. While it still does single-site rehab projects, it is increasingly involved in larger, multifamily affordable housing projects. PPL was a partner on the expansive Midtown Exchange site, a $12.9 million housing project, which represented the largest project in the non-profit's history.

It isn't surprising that PPL was chosen to help rebuild Minnesota after the foreclosure crisis and economic downturn. In 2009, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak announced an award of $6.5 million in National Stabilization Program funds to developers to rehab homes. The money was part of $14 million the city received from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the State of Minnesota. PPL received over $1,000,000 to purchase and rehabilitate foreclosed or abandoned multi-unit structures and rent them to households with income at or below 50 percent of the area median income.

And just last fall, PPL was selected as part of a $2.75 million national neighborhood stabilization initiative to return foreclosed rental houses to effective use. "PPL has been a steady partner, helping hundreds of low-income Minneapolis residents access training, job experience and good, long-term employment," said Mayor Ryback. "In addition, by stepping in to rehabilitate the toughest properties, PPL has played a critical role in helping Minneapolis implement our NSP program and restore neighborhoods that have been hit hard by the foreclosure crisis."

None of this, says PPL's Sara Garry, would have happened without foundation support. "PPL was launched in 1972, but its first foundation grant in 1973 set the course for the future, and our foundation partners have been pivotal in moving us forward ever since," said Garry. "Without them, we wouldn't be able to have the support services we have. We wouldn't be able to expand the way we have. And they're with us even in difficult financial times, because they know our work has a real impact."

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