WILLMAR –– A bus tour of affordable housing units scheduled for Friday afternoon in Willmar will give a local Vision 2040 committee a look at what’s available for families and workers who want to make Willmar their home.

It will be an “opportunity to look at the realities of housing in our community,” said Rhonda Otteson, a member of the Vision 2040 committee who is also the southwest regional coordinator for the Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless.

Based on surveys that show 97 percent of all Minnesota counties lack adequate workplace housing, Otteson is guessing the tour will reveal “that we have a gap” in the number of affordable housing options currently available in Willmar and the number of people who need a place to live.

That’s why Otteson, who has been lobbying legislators to allocate $100 million to increase affordable housing, is thrilled that the Senate’s bonding proposal that was announced Monday includes a total of $80 million to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency for affordable housing.

“It’s great news,” she said, adding that there is some disappointment that the Senate did not include the full $100 million that advocates had requested.

The House bonding bill does include $100 million for affordable housing, but Gov. Dayton has recommended $50 million.

“We’re still wanting the $100 million but we’re excited to see $80 million from the Senate,” said Otteson.

New funding would “certainly support the need we’re seeing across the state and in our local community,” said Otteson.

If the housing funds are approved, it would be one tool, along with local investors, that could be used to increase affordable housing here, said Otteson.

“Housing is integral to the health and vitality of a community. It’s integral to healthy schools. It’s a community building block,” said Otteson.

Affordable housing is also important to businesses.

“We have expanding businesses and industries that are unable to fill their needs because of housing issues,” said Sen. Lyle Koenen, DFL-Clara City, in a news release.

He said Minnesotans are “losing out on economic opportunities” because of a lack of housing. Koenen said the bonding bill begins to address that need.

Otteson said that the fact that the House, Senate and governor have healthy dollar figures slated for affordable housing indicates there is a strong awareness of the statewide need and it shows that the grassroots efforts to get state funding is an “opportunity to really make a difference.”

The tour of affordable housing units Friday will be in the city of Willmar.

Future tours will go to other communities in the county, including New London and Spicer, said Otteson.

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