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Willmar application moves forward for $1.2M in commercial, housing rehab funds

WILLMAR -- The Kandiyohi County Housing and Redevelopment Authority can now submit the final application for more than $1.2 million in commercial and housing rehab funds.

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WILLMAR - The Kandiyohi County Housing and Redevelopment Authority can now submit the final application for more than $1.2 million in commercial and housing rehab funds.

A mandated public hearing was held at Tuesday's Willmar City Council meeting and the council passed two needed resolutions for the application to the state Department of Employment and Economic Development seeking a Small Cities Development Program grant.

A preliminary application for the Small Cities program from Willmar was accepted by DEED in December.

"DEED informed the city that the preliminary proposal was competitive," said Jill Bengtson, HRA director.

The city's application is asking for $253,837 for 13 commercial rehab projects and $286,000 for 13 homeowner rehab. Another $600,000 will to go toward a rehab project at Hanson Apartments on Lakeland Drive Southeast, which provides affordable housing in the city. The remainder of the overall request is for administrative fees.

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The program would provide grant funding for homeowner and commercial rehabilitation projects within a specific project area. Commercial businesses located in an rectangular area surrounded by Pacific Avenue Southwest, First Street South, Trott Avenue Southwest and Seventh Street Southwest are within the project area.

Homeowners located in an area bounded by Park Avenue Northwest on the north, Oak Lane to Seventh Street Northwest on the east, Campbell Avenue Northwest on the south and 17th Street Northwest on the west are in the target area for the Small Cities program.

"The city's north side is one of the oldest neighborhoods in the community," Bengtson said.

The council unanimously approved a resolution designating the project area in Willmar's northside and downtown as a slum and blighted area at Tuesday's meeting.

"Of the 116 buildings in the target area, 32 of them are structurally standard, 84 of them are structurally substandards, and zero are dilapidated," the resolution said.

The council also passed a resolution in support of the Small Cities program.

The funds can be used for such things as door and window replacement, roof repair and code violations.

"Basically life safety, energy, deferred maintenance," Bengtson said.

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One of the reasons the city is pursuing a Small Cities grant is to help those homeowners and commercial businesses which are being affected by the discontinuation of the Willmar Municipal Utilities district heat program. The grant money can be used to help those property owners replace their heating systems.

The program funding would be used for zero percent, deferred, forgivable loans for a portion of the project costs. There are additional funding sources available for both commercial and homeowner projects. Willmar Municipal Utilities is offering loans to help those using district heat to install a new electric system, and the HRA also has a loan program available.

Interested commercial and residential property owners submitted a survey to be placed on the waiting list for possible funding. There were 43 homeowners interested, with 27 being eligible. Eligibility for home rehab also includes income requirements.

There were 36 business surveys returned. Twenty-seven of them were found to be eligible.

Bengtson said work on the preliminary environmental requirements for projects could begin before the final award approval in June, while the majority of the work would start in August. The city would have until July 2020 to complete the projects and hold a second public hearing to review the status of the Small Cities program.

"We anticipate wrapping everything up by September 2020," when the final project report is due to the Department of Employment and Economic Development, Bengtson said.

The last time Willmar participated in a Small Cities program was in 2012, along with Raymond. DEED awarded $1,048,702 for 27 homeowners, two rental projects located above commercial properties, nine businesses and a project at Highland Apartments.

"They've put millions of dollars in to make our housing stock better," Councilor Ron Christianson said.

Related Topics: WILLMAR CITY COUNCIL
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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