Program leverages lot to house veterans in Duluth
State, local agencies tab accessory dwelling units of 800 square feet or less as solution for homelessness.
DULUTH — Kevin Beichler spent 23 years doing active duty in the U.S. Air Force before becoming an advocate for homeless veterans in retirement.
“Everybody deserves a right to be housed and have a home — period,” Beichler said. “That’s the bottom line.”
On Friday, Beichler met the News Tribune on West Third Street in Lincoln Park to showcase the newest solution to veteran homelessness — a single lot that will suit two 500-square foot homes aimed at housing veterans by fall.
“This is going to be permanent housing,” Beichler said. “It’ll be theirs until the day they decide to leave.”
Beichler is the north regional director based in Duluth for the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans. He stood outside the first of two homes which had yet to be lifted by crane and set into place.
Last month, MAC-V, as it’s affectionately known, helped declare an effective end to homelessness in St. Louis County. It was programs like the one Beichler was showcasing that helped get to that point.
“It’s a new tool for us, it’s a new avenue and opportunity for us to look at more affordable housing for veterans,” Beichler said.
The homes will go to veterans eligible for federal rental vouchers.
In this case, MAC-V is teaming with Twin Cities-based manufacturer YardHomes to bring prefabricated modular housing units to Duluth. There are plans to bring more like it to other neighborhoods in the city.
YardHomes was founded in 2020 in New Brighton, Minnesota, as a special benefit corporation with “a social mission to create more homes for more people in more places,” explained Jamie Stolpestad, a partner in the business.
The homes are built one at a time inside a large facility and are valued at roughly $150,000 — about half the cost of an average unit of newly built affordable housing, Stolpestad said.
“It’s a great and cost-effective way to add new housing,” Stolpestad said. “You have street power, water and sewer, and you’re just gently adding density to the neighborhood.”
Stolpestad praised the city of Duluth, St. Louis County and Duluth Economic Development Authority for helping to make the future development happen.
“It’s really a smart thing to do and we wish other cities and counties would do more of it,” Stolpestad said.
The project leverages Duluth’s accessory dwelling unit ordinance, which allows additional smaller dwellings under 800 square feet to be joined onto an existing property.
Designed for seniors to remain in neighborhoods and live on, say, a family member’s lot, YardHomes sees accessory dwelling units as something to take further advantage of tax-forfeited lots — which is the case with the MAC-V property in Lincoln Park.
“It can be for everybody,” Stolpestad said. “There’s tons of idle land … and land converted to productive use for housing could be a really good outcome.”
The twin homes that will be located at 2817 W. Third St., will have ready access to a bus line outside their doors. The homes are larger than the typical tiny homes by a few hundred square feet.
There are currently eight veterans on the county’s registry of homeless veterans, and 109 homeless veterans have been housed in St. Louis County since 2014. The idea of functionally ending veteran homelessness is to rapidly rehouse newly identified veterans in trouble.
“My team knows every individual currently homeless by name and where they’re at in St. Louis County,” Beichler said. “We have a process to identify, provide services and stably house them within 90 days.”
Because people who are chronically homeless risk slipping back even after they’re housed, MAC-V provides ongoing case management for the veterans it houses.
“Once we get to a point where this person is working, paying his bills, saving his money — that’s what we call stable and then we back off,” Beichler said.
He figures the lot and its two new homes will be all set up by September, in time for a Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless Annual Conference in Duluth on Sept. 29-30.
“We’re going to have an open house in the neighborhood,” Beichler said. “So they can all see it.”