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Willmar HRA prepares funding request for downtown and residential program

WILLMAR -- The Willmar Housing and Redevelopment Authority is preparing to apply for funds to rehabilitate residential and downtown commercial and rental properties in Willmar and residential properties in Pennock.

Before the HRA can submit the application, however, the Willmar City Council must first hold a public hearing to explain the application. The council's Community Development Committee will ask the council Monday night to set the hearing for Jan. 12.

After the hearing, the council will consider resolutions supporting a cooperative agreement between Willmar and Pennock, supporting the application, and identifying the downtown and residential areas where the funds would be spent.

The deadline for submitting the application to the Business and Community Development Division of the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development is Jan. 15. Funding is funneled down from the federal community development block grant program to the state.

The application grew out of discussions among city staff, the HRA and Willmar Design Center. A report on the application was given to the committee Thursday by Dorothy Gaffaney, HRA executive director.

She said DEED is asking Willmar and 50 other cities to submit a full application, down from the 72 including Willmar that submitted pre-applications.

Willmar's application proposes to rehabilitate 13 owner-occupied homes on the east side in one of the city's oldest neighborhoods. The area is generally bounded by Pacific Avenue on the north, First Street on the west, Olena Avenue on the south and Lakeland Drive on the east.

In the downtown area, the HRA would rehab 10 commercial units and rehab 15 rental units. The downtown area is bounded by Pacific Avenue on the north, Seventh Street Southwest on the west, Trott Avenue Southwest on the south and First Street on the east.

In Pennock, the application proposes to rehab 7 homes. Participating with another city is not new, according to Gaffaney. Willmar and Atwater were partners in a program.

The program is separate from a program being developed by the HRA at the request of the committee to buy, rehab and sell homes for affordable housing in the city's core area.

Gaffaney said activities for owner-occupied and rental housing must benefit households meeting certain low- and moderate-income guidelines, and must benefit commercial properties meeting certain substandard requirements, such as needing a new roof or exterior work.

Estimated project cost is $1,287,935, of which the grant covers $872,060. The remaining $415,875 would be a combination of HRA funds from previous programs and private funds.

Gaffaney believes funding announcements will be made in late March or early April.

"At that time we'll know whether or not our application is funded,'' she said. "Then there would be an implementation workshop and there is a process to go through for release of funds, and work probably wouldn't be able to start on any properties probably until late June or early July.''

Interest in the program is high. The HRA sent out 59 notices to owner-occupied units and more than 29 are interested -- twice the number that would be helped if Willmar is funded.

Gaffaney said she does not know which downtown commercial or rental housing properties would be helped. She said the Design Center solicited interest from downtown owners.

"They had done a survey awhile back and at that time there were several property owners in downtown that indicated they would be interested in participating in an application,'' said Gaffaney.

City Administrator Michael Schmit said the Design Center "has literally talked to every downtown area property owner. There are a number of them, and they identify the improvements they need to their property and if they want to participate in the program, and there's a lot of interest to do that.''

Committee member Ron Christianson thanked Gaffaney for putting the application together.

"This is really a big benefit for owners,'' he said.

In other business Monday night, the council:

? Will appoint members to the Storm Water Task Force and to the Charter Commission.

? Receive the Finance Committee and Public Works Safety Committee reports.

? Receive comments from the public during the open forum.

? Receive a legislative update from congressional lobbyist David Turch and Associates.

? Will consider on-sale and club on-sale Sunday liquor licenses.