Simplified: Minnehaha County was one of four communities nationwide selected to participate in a unique housing effort to help people who've been impacted by the justice system. Here's how it happened and what it means for people who live here.

Why it matters

  • The grant – from the MacArthur Foundation and the Urban Institute – will bring $775,000 into the county, with potential to access up to $3.5 million.
  • What made the county's application stand apart was the community support, said Amos Abu, community housing coordinator for the city and county. Forty local groups sent letters of support to bolster the grant application.
  • The grant will primarily help people who've been incarcerated. Finding housing is especially difficult for these people, said Kari Benz, director of human services for the county.
"It's really difficult because the judgement doesn’t stop at the gate when they get out of jail or incarceration," Benz said.

Tell me more about how this played out

The MacArthur Foundation – which has worked with the county on previous projects – asked the county, along with at least 23 other communities, to apply for the grant.

  • But the deadline for the application had already been set, Abu said. And it was a tight turnaround.
"We had less than 10 days to put together a proposal," he said. "(And the foundation said) ideas should be groundbreaking enough for us to weed out and select you."

A team of city, county, nonprofit and community folks came together to get the initial application in.

  • The application then progressed to the final 10, the final six and, ultimately, Minnehaha County was one of four communities selected.
"They said what put this project over the edge was we had 40 letters of support from different nonprofits," said Jeff Eckhoff, director of planning and development services for the city. "The differentiator was the level of collaboration."

What problem will this grant solve?

The goal is ultimately about helping people who've been impacted by the justice system find housing, Abu said.

  • But it's also about looking at reducing recidivism, reducing the jail population and reducing racial disparities among incarcerated people.

If people come out of incarceration and can find a safe, suitable place to live, they're less likely to end up back in jail or prison, Abu said.

Additionally, existing low-income housing programs – including federally funded ones – often aren't accessible to people with a felony on their record.

  • This grant has none of those restrictions.
"It offers us the ability to say, 'You do count, and you do matter, and we're going to help you,'" Benz said.

What happens next?

The first phase of the grant is a six-month community engagement process as the county puts together its "housing investment plan." That's happening now, Abu said, and will continue throughout the summer.

The plan will then be implemented over an 18-month second phase.