WEST FARGO - YWCA Cass Clay broke ground Tuesday, June 5, on a new supportive housing project opening next year for 30 families at risk of homelessness, many of whom are escaping domestic violence.

The nonprofit partnered with Gate City Bank and West Fargo's Lutheran Church of the Cross to build Grace Garden, a two-story residence that will have 30 one- to four-bedroom apartments and offer a place of safety for families seeking a better life.

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The idea for Grace Garden first came up two and a half years ago when Lutheran Church of the Cross Pastor Joel Baranko invited YWCA Cass Clay CEO Erin Prochnow, a member of the congregation, for coffee.

The pastor and the CEO saw the vacant church-owned land adjacent to the church's property in West Fargo as an opportunity to come together to create a pathway out of poverty, Prochnow said.

The church's congregation formally voted last month to lease the site to the YWCA for 65 years.

West Fargo Mayor Rich Mattern said the housing will be a great addition to the city because it is unfortunately needed.

"I got a call from Pastor Joel, and usually when God calls, I try to answer," Mattern joked. "It's amazing to me that a whole congregation would want to get together and do this."

Gate City Bank pledged $1.5 million in May 2017 to fund the project's startup costs and support services over the first 12 years.

"It is our responsibility to give back to our community, and we take a lot of pride in that," Gate City Bank Executive Vice President Kim Meyer said.

In November, the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency awarded development support to Grace Garden through the federal Low Income Housing Tax Credit ($672,500), the National Housing Trust Fund ($325,549) and the state's Housing Incentive Fund ($500,000).

"The mission of the agency is to make sure that every North Dakotan has a safe and affordable place to live," Executive Director Jolene Kline said. "Homelessness is a huge priority right now because of its impact. We know that it costs more for a community to have someone on the street than to house them."

The North Dakota Department of Commerce is supporting the land acquisition for the project through the Governor's Community Development Block Grant Discretionary Funds.

"Everyone deserves a place to call home," Program Manager Adele Sigl said.

Grace Garden will also get rental assistance from the Housing Authority of Cass County.

Shultz & Associates Architects will design the project. The company was also the original architects of the YWCA emergency shelter building at 3000 S. University Drive in Fargo.

Construction on the two-story Grace Garden building will begin this summer and is expected to finish in spring 2019. The total project cost is $7.1 million.

In addition to individual apartments, the property will include community spaces for classes and gatherings as well as an exercise room, patio, garage and playground. Offices will also be built for YWCA advocates, nurses and other professional resources.