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Kandiyohi County to form a trust fund to help pay for housing development projects

The Kandiyohi County Board has approved the creation of a local housing trust fund. Monies in the fund will be used to help make housing projects a reality.

Dan Olson of Cronen Construction works at a home construction site on Lower Trentwood Circle the morning of Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022.
A new housing trust fund created April 4 by the Kandiyohi County Board will be able to help fund both housing construction and rehabilitation projects across the county. The goal is to assist moderate, low-income and very low-income housing projects.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune file photo

WILLMAR β€” Housing has long been a priority for the Kandiyohi County Board and at the April 4 meeting the commissioners took a step toward helping to respond to that need.

In a unanimous vote the board approved the ordinance forming a housing trust fund, which can be used to help fund local housing projects.

"The board is wanting to get some movement in this direction," said Commissioner Corky Berg. "I think it is a start, but it is a great start."

The process to create the fund was initiated by Jill Bengtson, Kandiyohi County Housing and Redevelopment Authority director, back in early December 2022. The mission of the fund is to address housing needs for those with moderate, low and very low incomes.

The monies can be used for developing both owner-occupied and rental housing projects, including new construction and rehabilitation.

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For rental rehabilitation dollars, the fund will focus on assisting landlords who own 16 or fewer rental units, with the hope it will help these owners make needed capital improvements. It is hoped that this in turn will make more rental housing desirable for tenants.

"One of the things I am most excited about is the opportunity for small, what I call 'retail' landlords, to get some assistance to fix up their properties," said Commissioner Steve Gardner.

The Minnesota Legislature in 2017 gave counties and cities the ability to create a housing trust fund and since then 21 have done so. Funding can come from a variety of different sources including private donations and public funds.

The Kandiyohi County HRA has said it will contribute $150,000 to the fund and there has been discussion about using county American Rescue Plan Act dollars as well. The HRA will administer the trust fund.

Prior to the County Board approving the ordinance to create the fund, a public hearing gave members of the public a chance to comment on the item. There was no written comment submitted to the board, though two individuals did speak at the hearing.

"I really believe in investing in housing," said Kelsey Vosika, director of Family Promise of Kandiyohi County , a nonprofit that assists families dealing with housing instability. "When we invest in housing for our local families, we invest in our children's future."

The need for services has grown past Family Promise's ability to meet it and the hope is the trust fund will provide additional support and grow the affordable housing stock in Kandiyohi County.

"Our organization definitely wants to see this happen," Vosika said, adding that her organization sees firsthand the impact of housing instability on families. "I think this housing trust fund will really help improve some of the housing instability factors that our community is seeing the consequences of."

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Pablo Obregon, director of Community Growth with the city of Willmar, also spoke in support of the trust fund, saying it as an opportunity for the city and county to work as partners and help those struggling with housing needs.

"This is an opportunity we should take advantage of, to help those that are living in poverty especially, to com out of this cycle. This is not a hand-out, this is a hand-up for those who are struggling financially," Obregon said. "We are not only helping people to find affordable housing or houses. We are helping them create homes."

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Creating a stable and available stock of affordable workforce housing, both for renters and owners, may also help the city and county in other ways.

"There is an economic development aspect that is very important here," said Commissioner Roger Imdieke. "When we have adequate housing, we can attract workers to the area, we can grow our tax base, we can stabilize our school districts. I think this is a good step forward."

The trust fund is another way the county can help the area that in some ways is still recovering from the housing crash in 2008 and assist people find a stable place to live, whether it is owning their own home or renting.

"I am really excited about the things I am hearing in the community and this will only help keep that excitement going," Imdieke said.

Shelby Lindrud is a reporter with the West Central Tribune of Willmar. Her focus areas are arts and entertainment, agriculture, features writing and the Kandiyohi County Board.

She can be reached via email slindrud@wctrib.com or direct 320-214-4373.


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