City asks HRA to seek state funds for affordable housing efforts in core areas
WILLMAR -- A Willmar City Council committee wants a greater effort made in the core areas of town to create affordable and entry-level housing. To accomplish that purpose, the council's Community Development Committee has asked the Willmar Housin...
WILLMAR -- A Willmar City Council committee wants a greater effort made in the core areas of town to create affordable and entry-level housing.
To accomplish that purpose, the council's Community Development Committee has asked the Willmar Housing and Redevelopment Authority to investigate the possibility of obtaining funds from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.
The committee met Thursday afternoon with HRA Director Dorothy Gaffaney and asked her to investigate the possibility of using state housing funds for housing preservation, including rehabilitation of owner-occupied structures and rehabilitation of rental structures.
The committee also asked her to investigate the ability to acquire, demolish and resell vacant properties, or acquire, demolish and redevelop vacant properties.
Creating affordable housing is a primary concern for committee member Jim Dokken.
"It's been my contention, and I told the mayor when discussion of (Westwind Estates Third Addition) began, that we needed to do more work in the core city to make affordable housing and entry-level housing for all people there,'' instead of spending money on a large housing project in one part of town, he said.
"These are entry-level homes and it is a way to assimilate all people into our culture within the city,'' said Dokken.
He said the city has invested millions of dollars in streets, utilities and other improvements in the core city, where he said affordable housing already exists. Dokken said he learned that Minnesota Housing Finance Agency will spend $1.6 billion in 2008 and 2009 on housing, including 37 percent on preserving existing, affordable housing.
"There are plenty of houses in the $60,000 to $120,000 range. Preserve existing, affordable housing,'' he said. "We need to improve our affordable housing,''
Committee member Ron Christianson supported the suggestion.
"If there are funds available, we should scramble for them,'' he said.
Gaffaney listed numerous housing programs already used by her agency. She said she was willing to investigate the committee's request.
In an interview, Gaffaney said the HRA has been very active in housing rehabilitation programs.
"It sounds like they're asking us to look at purchasing some dilapidated housing if we're able to secure funding for that, and possibly funding to then provide for rebuilding on those lots,'' she said.
Bruce Peterson, director of city planning and development services, said the HRA is "stretched pretty thin'' with projects and programs it already administers.
"The other side is that the availability of funds is less now than it used to be for many of the programs and the programs are more competitive,'' he said.
Some of Westwind's financing will be provided by Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, according to the project's financing application. The twin-home project is slated for southwest Willmar.
In other business, the committee approved a request from MinnWest Technology Campus representatives to have the city apply for a $2 million state Department Employment and Economic Development grant on MinnWest's behalf.
Tim Miller, a consultant from Development Partners of Prinsburg, and James Sieben, MinnWest president, said state rules require a city government to make the grant application for MinnWest. The city would then act as a "pass-through'' to MinnWest, said Peterson.
Miller and Sieben said MinnWest owners will match the state grant with $2 million to develop and equip a science cooperative center where biotechnology ideas would be converted into products for industry. They said the $4 million facility will open in the fall of 2009.