WILLMAR -- Eleven units are rented and four more units will be rented by the end of the month at the new Westwind Townhomes low-income housing development in southwest Willmar.
The $5,377,000 development consists of 14 structures. Each structure has two rental units for a total of 28 units. The development is owned by Westwind Estates Townhomes Limited Partnership, of which Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership of Slayton is the general partner.
Funding was provided by a first mortgage from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, some general partner equity from Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, Small Cities Development Program, Greater Minnesota Housing Fund and the federal Section 1602 Program, which funds affordable housing developments.
Construction began this summer and was finished ahead of schedule, says Kristie Blankenship, asset manager for Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership. A public open house will be scheduled.
The townhome development is managed by Willmar Housing and Redevelopment Authority and has a part-time caretaker living in one of the rental units. The caretaker will be responsible for lawn maintenance, among other things.
Residents are responsible for their own snow removal, along with electricity, gas, water and sewer.
The development created a great deal of controversy after the project was proposed more than two years ago. The development was allowed by city zoning ordinance but was opposed by owners of nearby single-family homes and other city residents who felt the development would reduce property values.
Blankenship said the partnership is excited to have construction completed and occupancy under way. Blankenship said reaction to the development has been positive.
"I think that people were pleasantly surprised at how things have turned out,'' she said. "It looks great and things have gone really well. When you drive through the neighborhood, your first impression is not rental housing whatsoever. It blends very nicely into the single-family neighborhood.''
The Tribune interviewed Blankenship Tuesday afternoon during an open house hosted by the partnership and the Willmar HRA for elected city and Kandiyohi County officials, city and county staff, and board members of the partnership and Willmar HRA.
One of those invited officials was Mayor Les Heitke, a development supporter.
"I think the citizens of Willmar, when they have a chance to look at the entire project, will find that it is very attractive,'' he said. "It fits in well with the neighborhood. It really is a mixed housing situation and needed housing for the city of Willmar.''
Heitke said he hopes neighbors will look at it respectfully and find ways to engage themselves with their new neighbors "so that the whole southwest area of the city will develop smoothly and that people will find ways to build friendships and get along with each other.''
Nikki Ilgen, Willmar HRA acting director, realizes the public will be watching the development. As manager, the HRA will handle maintenance and will follow up on any complaints.
"We welcome anybody that does have concerns that they call us,'' she said. "If there are concerns, people don't call us but they expect us to know it. We need communication between both the residents and us as well as our neighbors, even if it's our own residents or if it's a private neighbor. They need to call us.''
The HRA is screening and selecting tenants from a long waiting list of people who asked to be considered after the controversy began.
"We do criminal background checks, credit checks, verify their income, bank accounts, references, and if they are denied for some reason, they do have the right to appeal and they go from there,'' Ilgen said.
The rental units have a maximum income limit of 60 percent of the county-wide median income. Income limits range from $26,580 for a 1-person household to $44,040 for a 6-person household.
The townhouses consist of 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom units. Each 2-bedroom unit has 1,080 square feet on one level and rents for $460 per month. Each 3-bedroom unit has 1,320 square feet on two levels and rents for $626 per month.
The maximum household composition for a 2-bedroom unit is 4 household members. For a 3-bedroom unit, the maximum household composition is 6 household members.
Each unit is air-conditioned and equipped with natural gas heat and water heater, electric refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, washer and dryer and driveway and garage. The kitchen area has a walkout patio.
Blankenship said the HRA will educate tenants on maintaining their unit, such as use of special cleaner for the glass-top stove, cleaning the dryer vent and other light maintenance that will be expected.
Smoking is not allowed in the townhome living areas or garages. Alcohol consumption outside the townhomes is prohibited. Pets are not allowed but companion animals are allowed.
The townhomes were built in four different styles and have a variety of interior and exterior colors. The exteriors have varied porches and brick work and feature James Hardie fiber cement siding.
The interiors have oak woodwork, Energy Star light fixtures and appliances, and low-flow water fixtures. The carpet and vinyl flooring have 30 percent recycled content, and all primers, finishes and paints have low VOC (volatile organic compounds). Some units have vaulted ceilings.
Most of the units have been landscaped with trees and shrubs, and sod has been laid around many of the units. Landscaping and sod work will be completed in the spring, Blankenship said.