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Willmar City Council supports contributing funds to updated housing study of entire county

It has been seven years since a housing study has been conducted for Kandiyohi County, and Willmar City Council on Aug. 1 approved contributing $12,000 toward a new housing study

Braydon Johnson of Stella Homes works on installing roof supports on a home being built along Shady Lane in Willmar the morning of Thursday, August 4, 2022.
Braydon Johnson of Stella Homes works on installing roof supports on a home being built along Shady Lane in Willmar the morning of Thursday, August 4, 2022. A housing study is planned in the next few months of Willmar and all of Kandiyohi County.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune
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WILLMAR — It has been seven years since a housing study was completed in Kandiyohi County, which means it is currently irrelevant.

That is about to change with the Willmar City Council on Aug. 1 adopting a resolution to contribute $12,000 toward a new housing study that will cost $48,000 to complete for the whole county.

Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission Executive Director Aaron Backman presented the proposal from Viewpoint Consulting to conduct the new housing study.

Earlier this year, the EDC and the Kandiyohi County Housing and Redevelopment Authority decided it is time to complete a new housing study. However, that has been a bit of a challenge, Backman said.

Dan Olson of Cronen Construction works at a home construction site on Lower Trentwood Circle the morning of Thursday, August 4, 2022.
Dan Olson of Cronen Construction works at a home construction site on Lower Trentwood Circle in Willmar the morning of Thursday, August 4, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

Although the HRA sent requests for proposals for the housing study to all businesses on Minnesota’s list of approved vendors, including Community Partners, each of the businesses responded that they were too busy and declined submitting a proposal, according to Backman.

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Backman reached out to Jay Thompson, president of Viewpoint Consulting, based in Greenfield.

“I have worked with him before and found him to be responsive and thorough. Mr. Thompson is available and can complete the report within 120 days at a cost of $48,000 covering the whole county, including all 12 incorporated cities,” Backman said.

He noted that the 2015 study cost $37,000 to undertake.

At the July 14 EDC meeting, Backman presented Viewpoint Consulting Group’s proposal to the EDC’s joint operations board, and it approved moving forward with the housing study contingent on sharing the cost with other entities that will benefit from it.

Backman also told the council that Sue Blumhoefer with the West Central Association of Realtors is pursuing a housing opportunity grant with the Realtor Association, which would provide $10,000 toward the cost of the housing study.

Braydon Johnson of Stella Homes makes a cut on the roof of a home being built on Shady Lane in Willmar the morning of Thursday, August 4, 2022.
Braydon Johnson of Stella Homes makes a cut on the roof of a home being built on Shady Lane in Willmar the morning of Thursday, August 4, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

In addition to those funds, HRA Executive Director Jill Bengston is requesting the HRA Board commit $24,000 toward the cost of the study, Backman said. The remaining costs of the study would be paid by the EDC.

During discussion of the proposal, City Councilor Justin Ask questioned why the county and each of the 11 other cities in the county are not being asked to contribute funds toward the study.

Backman explained that the HRA encompasses all of Kandiyohi County, and the HRA is paying for 50% of the study and Willmar, being the largest city in the county which has seen a lot of development recently, is being asked to participate with a $12,000 contribution.

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He also noted that if Blumhoefer is successful in obtaining the grant, there would not be a need to ask the county to contribute toward the study.

“Council member Ask brings up an important and good point,” said Mayor Marv Calvin, noting that he supports contributing the money. “The county has a pretty good track record of helping people outside of Willmar. They do a good job of that, not so good in Willmar. That is concerning, it’s been a concern of mine for about the last three years.”

Dan Olson of Cronen Construction cuts a wooden beam at a home construction site on Lower Trentwood Circle the morning of Thursday, August 4, 2022.
Dan Olson of Cronen Construction cuts a wooden beam at a home construction site on Lower Trentwood Circle in Willmar the morning of Thursday, August 4, 2022.
Macy Moore / West Central Tribune

He noted that county's American Rescue Plan Act funds were not distributed within Willmar, very little of the county's local option sales tax funds for roads have benefited Willmar, and none of the vehicle permit fees collected have been used in Willmar.

“As you stated earlier, as the biggest city in the county, I think it’s time we start getting scratched on our back a little bit, too,” Calvin said. “I know what’s good for Kandiyohi County is good for Willmar, but maybe it’s time for county commissioners to take a look and say they want to help the city of Willmar, too.”

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Benefits of a current housing study

The EDC used the previous housing study by providing it regularly to housing developers, which has helped secure numerous multiple-unit housing developments during the last two years, according to Backman.

He said a current housing study will assist the county and its incorporated cities in identifying housing needs and gaps in the housing stock; providing information for city, county and agency decision-making; supporting programs and projects that address housing needs; assisting in obtaining grants, tax credits and other financing for housing projects; mobilizing developers and builders to invest in local communities; and, providing housing strategies and recommendations.

Braydon Johnson of Stella Homes prepares to make a measurement while working to construct a home along Shady Lane in Willmar the morning of Thursday, August 4, 2022.
Braydon Johnson of Stella Homes prepares to make a measurement while working to construct a home along Shady Lane in Willmar the morning of Thursday, August 4, 2022.

Noting that the focus of mayor’s housing task force is to build a stock of single-family homes in the city of Willmar, Willmar Planning and Development Director Justice Walker said it would be beneficial to know how many undeveloped lots there are in the city of Willmar, why they are not being built on, if those lots are for sale, and, if not, why not.

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EDC Business Development Manager Sarah Swedburg said she would like to use the results of a new housing study to create short- and long-term housing action plans modeled after what the city of Mankato is doing with its housing.

According to a request for proposals that the city of Mankato issued in February, its affordable housing action plan "will detail the number and type of affordable housing needed (both owner-occupied and rental) along with a 'toolbox' of financing options and best practices recommended to achieve plan goals.

The Mankato plan, according to the request document, will serve "as a road map with action steps toward increased and improved housing affordability ... and consider the diverse continuum of housing needs in the community from shelter beds, supportive and transitional housing, workforce housing, homeownership, rehabilitation, and older residents desiring to age in place."

Jennifer Kotila is a reporter for West Central Tribune of Willmar, Minnesota. She focuses on local government, specifically the City of Willmar, and business.

She can be reached via email at: jkotila@wctrib.com or phone at 320-214-4339.
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