Tuesday, July 16, 2024
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Hamilton Habitat Finishing Two New Affordable Homes in Grand Marais

On the wall in the office Anna Hamilton shares at the Cook County Home Center is a poster that reminds her every day about her passion for creating affordable housing in Grand Marais. A rainbow blankets a drawing of a community with one house surrounded by pine trees. Over the rainbow are the words, “there’s no place like home,” underscored it reads “Hamilton Habitat.”

Anna and her sister, Sarah Hamilton, formed Hamilton Habitat five years ago to address the long-term lack of affordable housing in the growing tourist area. They are long-time residents of Cook County and have a track record of building small businesses, mentoring others, and providing generous helpings of philanthropy.

It’s moving day in Grand Marais. Hamilton Habitat’s newest home arrives from Liechty Homes and is placed on its fresh slab. (Photo courtesy Hamilton Habitat/Liechty Homes)

Hamilton Habitat is finishing two new houses this month, hoping to hand them over to the new owners by the New Year. Like all things construction, it may take a few extra days to get them done.

The new houses are modular homes purchased from Liechty Homes in Hermantown. The first arrived last Friday. The second was scheduled to arrive last Tuesday, weather permitting. Hamilton Habitat sold the two-bedroom/two-bath homes this summer, and Anna says the buyers can’t wait for their new houses.

Hamilton Habitat purchased the property at the north end of West 2nd Street in Grand Marais earlier this year. After clearing the land of an old mobile home, several outbuildings, and a roll-off or two of miscellaneous debris, the property was divided into two lots and prepared to accept the two modular homes. Excavating contractor Darin Bloomquist of Bloomquist Construction was retained by Hamilton to remove the outbuildings and mobile home, grade the lots, and prepare the ground for the slabs that are the foundation of the two houses.

Anna moved to the Gunflint Trail almost 40 years ago. She worked in several resorts, forming deep relationships with residents. Sarah came along later to manage and eventually own Trail Center Lodge and Restaurant on the Gunflint Trail.

Anna spent a dozen years in the last millennium as a successful realtor. Learning the ropes of planning, zoning, and funding as a realtor prepared her for the role of Project Manager for Hamilton Habitat.

Over the years, the two started and sold several businesses that are landmarks in Grand Marais. In the food service business, they built My Sister’s Place, Hughies Tacos (named to honor Dad and now Hungry Hippy Tacos), and Gunflint Mercantile. They started a clothing line called “Dork Wear.” Trail Center is also the home of another startup, Camp Chow, which offers dehydrated meals marketed to wilderness travelers.

They have also mentored several local small business owners over the years. Anna said, “In our business life, we realized that if we could do it, anyone can. We’re passing it on.”

As hardworking people, Anna and Sarah knew the challenges facing those who would like to get on the path of home ownership. “We knew the need (for affordable housing) was there, and we decided to do something about it,” Anna said.

Anna was inspired by the late Percy Ross, a multi-millionaire and noted philanthropist who sought opportunities to give a hand to those who asked for it.

“We are the working stiffs,” Anna said. “We can relate to the working person trying to get ahead.”

Anna, a published novelist, says that in her next book will be a chapter titled The Poor Philanthropist. She added, “That is what Sarah and I call ourselves.” Hamilton Habitat has built or renovated more than six homes with plans to build two more in the spring in Grand Marais. It sells the finished properties “at cost” and works with potential buyers to help with financing.

The non-profit currently has a dozen people on its waiting list for homes.

The homes are sold with a deed restriction that prevents the property from ever being used as a short- or long-term rental. Home-buyers agree that if they sell the property before they’ve lived in it for five years, they will split, 50/50, any equity received with Hamilton Habitat.

These two homes are sold to single women, one who works for the county and one a nurse at the local Care Center at North Shore Hospital. “This is the fourth nurse and the fifth hospital worker we’ve sold houses to,” Anna said.

After the second home is delivered, Liechty will send a crew to remove the wheels and axles used for transport and affix the houses to the slab. A second crew then comes in to make any repairs resulting from the move.

When that’s done, local contractor Chad Smith and his crew, who have been involved in all of the Hamilton projects to date, will install skirting around the structures, and the homes will be ready for new owners.

Anna sought legal advice after starting Hamilton Habitat about setting it up as a non-profit. After being advised not to take that step, she decided to do it anyway. As a 501C3, it is easier to obtain donations and grants to keep the projects on track.

The Cook County Home Center, where Anna works in the Ace Hardware Store four days a week, sells building materials to Hamilton Habitat at its cost. “This community is amazing,” Anna said. “We could not do this without everyone’s help.”

Donations are welcome to keep this vital community project working. If you’d like to make a tax-deductible contribution before year-end, visit the Hamilton Habitat website at hamiltonhabitat.wordpress.com. Alternatively, you can mail a check to Hamilton Habitat Inc., PO Box 1354, Grand Marais, MN 55604.

Steve Fernlund
Steve Fernlund
Typically these “about me” pages include a list of academic achievements (I have none) and positions held (I have had many, but who really cares about those?) So, in the words of the late Admiral James Stockwell, “Who am I? Why am I here?” I’m well into my seventh decade on this blue planet we call home. I’m a pretty successful husband, father, and grandfather, at least in my humble opinion. My progeny may disagree. We have four children and five grandchildren. I spent most of my professional life in the freight business. At the tender age of 40, early retirement beckoned and we moved to Grand Marais. A year after we got here, we bought and operated the Cook County News Herald, a weekly newspaper in Grand Marais. A sharp learning curve for a dumb freight broker to become a newspaper editor and publisher. By 1999 the News Herald was an acquisition target for a rapidly consolidating media market. We sold our businesses and “retired” again, buying a winter retreat in Nevada. In the fall of 2016, we returned to Grand Marais and bought a house from old friends of ours on the ridge overlooking Lake Superior. They were able to move closer to family and their Mexico winter home. And we came home to what we say is our last house. I’m a strong believer in the value of local newspapers--both online and those you can wrap a fish in. I write a weekly column and a couple of feature stories for the Northshore Journal. I’m most interested in writing about the everyday lives of local people and reporting on issues of importance to them.
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