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Roseville's Prince of Peace Lutheran Church will not only continue hosting tiny homes for the formerly homeless on its property but will expand and welcome another tenant, church members recently decided.

A new "microunit," which will house an individual, a couple or a family, will join two tiny houses already on the property. Its addition comes as a new Minnesota law will allow religious institutions statewide to create such communities for homeless or very low-income people with little red tape from cities, as long as they comply with state statute.

The "sacred settlement" law requires the communities to have at least three units. It takes effect Jan. 1.

The newest home is already built and on site at Prince of Peace in what is likely the Twin Cities' first suburban tiny home community for the formerly homeless. Its resident hasn't been determined.

The church's 400 members voted to keep the settlement on its 8.5 acres this fall while continuing to collaborate with Settled, a Maplewood-based nonprofit with a similar community in St. Paul.

Church members "leaned into the hopefulness ... that here is something we can do with the resources we have," said Peter Christ, Prince of Peace's lead pastor. "This church has remained active, wrestling with the question, 'What are we here for?'"

Hosting the settlement has been transformational, Christ said, and the project has especially excited younger members — a group that mainline Christian churches are statistically losing over time.

The church is adding the third home because it's a step forward, Christ said. But he said it's also a small-enough effort to give the congregation time to think and look at other affordable housing ideas for church land.

While research into adding multifamily housing options has revealed roadblocks, the tiny homes settlement continues to work well, he said.

"My hope is that we will inspire other churches in this community to come alongside and do the same thing," Christ said.

Serving a need

Prince of Peace initially began allowing Valerie Roy, who was living in a bus, to park on the property in the summer of 2022. By the following December, the church had a tiny home available and suggested Roy move in.

Church officials said they considered the arrangement temporary and in response to an urgent need.

The community soon added another microunit, occupied by a family of three "intentional neighbors" who wanted to live there as volunteers to build community — and still do.

But Roseville officials were caught by surprise and issued a citation for the homes. City Manager Patrick Trudgeon said Roseville initially had concerns about the two homes, including their lack of plumbing and foundations, because of zoning and code applicability. The homes "just showed up without any interaction with the city," he said.

Last summer, city officials voted to require the church to relocate the homes, but they later changed course. A temporary permit was granted allowing the homes to remain until the state law took effect, Trudgeon said.

The city's concern "was never about the type of housing or the people that they served," he said.

The legislation has cleared up questions, including which codes apply, Trudgeon said.

"We don't have the same conflicts in our mind as we did before," he added.

Trudgeon said he was previously "a little critical of how fast this went through the Legislature." Now, city officials acknowledge the church's community is serving a need.

"This is a good type of housing to address the extremely low income population as well as maybe the folks that are experiencing homelessness," he said.

Daniel Lightfoot, a League of Minnesota Cities lobbyist, said his group explained the new sacred settlements legislation in a September publication called "Focus on New Laws."

The league's goal is to make the settlements safe and successful for municipalities, he said.

It had early concerns because the law allowed tiny homes that did not meet building codes. The law didn't — and doesn't — require foundations or indoor plumbing, which are otherwise required under state code for year-round dwellings.

But now, cities must allow them as a permitted use or under a conditional use permit and can't create additional standards for them, Lightfoot said.

He said he has heard from some cities that they're working with their city councils on how to respond to the legislation. He hasn't heard of any cities saying they have a faith community ready to create a settlement yet, Lightfoot said.

Richfield, which is home to 16 churches, recently approved an ordinance making the process for faith communities easier. A "microunit" now will be permitted as an "allowed accessory use" and can forgo a public hearing.

Building community

At Prince of Peace, the latest microunit was constructed by AbeTech, a Rogers-based company, as a team-building project. A deck was added, as was new siding and more insulation to meet state requirements.

At just over 200 square feet, the microunit has a kitchen, lots of natural light and a lofted bed. Like the other two homes on site, it sits on a trailer and doesn't have a bathroom. Instead, it will have a "dry toilet" or commode.

Residents pay about $270 in rent but can do chores to reduce that amount. They aren't required to be members of the church but have 24-hour access to a church common area with full bathrooms, a kitchen and dining and living areas. Rent covers electricity and other basic expenses.

The two original units, which are similar to the six in Settled's community in St. Paul, were constructed by another church for about $35,000 each. Site grading, wiring and renovations to nearby church common areas added $25,000 to each home's cost.

Gabrielle Clowdus, founder and CEO of Settled, said she's heard from a half-dozen churches that are discussing adding sacred settlements. In Duluth, churches are working together to gather resources and plan for such a community, she said.

Religious institutions are ideal hosts, Clowdus said, because they often have extra land, their properties are paid off and they're tax-exempt. And helping the poor is a tenet of every major religion, she said.

The Settled model emphasizes creating a strong sense of community; formerly homeless people have often experienced "a profound and catastrophic loss" of family and relationships, she said.

Clowdus said both Settled communities offer permanent, not transitional, housing.

"This model is saying, 'You are welcome here indefinitely," she said.

Prince of Peace officials are trying to find a resident for their new home, working "slowly but anxiously" through their own process. There's no sobriety requirement, but the person can't be a sex offender or have a history of violence, they said.

The church wants them to be "rooted here in Roseville," Christ said, and has confidence God will help them locate the right person.

Roy, Prince of Peace's first resident, is still pleased with her home, she said, and wants to go back to school to get a master's degree in drug and alcohol counseling.

She said there may be "growing pains" with the new resident as they acclimate, but she thinks the community should "expand even more."

"This whole thing's a social experiment — why not?" she said.