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Housing In Lake County; A Lot Of Moving Parts

Tackling the urgent need for housing in Lake County is a job with a lot of moving parts.

Affordable housing is essential for economic growth. Unfortunately, a number of local employers have not been able to expand their businesses or provide needed services because candidates that they wanted to hire were not able to find housing any closer than Duluth and so, looked elsewhere for employment. Locally, there are a lot of stakeholders involved in making decisions about how to address the need for housing in Lake County. Matthew Johnson, Executive Director of the Lake County Housing and Redevelopment Authority likened it to trying to put a jigsaw puzzle together when you have a bunch of pieces, but don’t have a clear picture of the image portrayed on the puzzle box.

Single family affordable housing projects by One Roof are underway in Two Harbors. (submitted photo)

Both the Two Harbors and Lake County HRAs have the same overarching goal in mind but they differ in their roles, statutorily. Both are subject to higher authority (Two Harbors HRA to the City Council, Lake County HRA to the County Board). The Lake County HRA views things through a county-wide lens while the Two Harbors HRA is concerned with housing development within the confines of the city. Given these differences, funding for proposed projects requires different considerations depending on who is proposing what. Everyone is concerned about inflated construction costs, supply chain issues and the fact that it can be challenging to find contractors who are willing to take on a project that simply entails building one or two affordable single-family homes. City officials have acknowledged that planning for affordable housing has been neglected for the past 20 years. There are, however, several projects that are moving forward with regard to meeting the need for affordable housing in Lake County.

The County HRA has been focused on needed rehabilitation of the Lakeview Apartment building. Work there is ongoing and has included asbestos abatement, window and door replacement and repairing and updating bathrooms and kitchens. The Lakeview property provides affordable apartment units to area residents and a veteran who was recently homeless has just moved into a unit there. Discussions on the Silverpoint II apartment complex in Silver Bay are ongoing with the hope that ground will be able to be broken there soon.

Lake County has purchased the abandoned John A. Johnson school property and, as the building awaits demolition, Lake County and Two Harbors officials will be working together to decide how best to use that land to address housing needs.

If you have driven along 10th Avenue you have probably noticed that there are two lots on the north side of the street that have building materials stacked up on them. Both of these projects are the work of One Roof, who acquired the property from Lake County. When both projects are complete, there will be two new affordable single-family homes ready for occupancy in Two Harbors.

The Two Harbors HRA continues to manage the Bayview apartments while expanding their scope to include the ”High School Project’’ with the hope that Lake County will transfer tax-forfeited land to the City. As these discussions bear fruit, the Two Harbors HRA will hopefully be making one or more homes available for purchase soon in the Segog area.

Each of the aforementioned projects, when completed, will be an important step forward in meeting housing needs in Lake County. That being said, it appears that there needs to be a streamlining process put in place that will allow the various HRAs and their governing authorities to work off of the same playbook. For example, what are the processes by which funds are acquired and distributed? Is there a way to centralize this so that funds can be allocated quickly and fairly? Since the intent is to build affordable homes, are there architectural designs available that can be easily accessed and can be utilized in any number of settings and locations? Can these same ideas be applied to multiple-family dwellings and senior housing?

Lake County HRA Director Johnson said, “We need to focus on all levels of housing including low income, workforce, market rate, single family, multi-family and senior housing”.

I grew up in a home where we had a tradition of assembling a 1000-piece puzzle during the holidays. For those readers who are puzzle enthusiasts and know what it means to assemble the Rose of Notre Dame or a similarly difficult puzzle, send some positive energy to the folks who work at our County and City HRAs. Their work is meticulous and may be frustrating at times, but the end result will bring revitalization to our area and will be of great benefit to us all.

The Lake County HRA will hold their next meeting on December 13th at 6:00 p.m. in the Split Rock River Room at the County Service Center.

Rick Evans
Rick Evans
My wife, Marsha Kinzer (a proud DEHS Greyhound, class of ‘77) introduced me to the North Shore on vacation in 2012. It became our regular escape when the stress of our careers in education became overwhelming, and it didn’t take me long to fall in love with the breathtaking scenery, the nice people, and “salad” containing Jell-o and marshmallows. So you can either blame or thank my loving wife for my being here, because when we needed to choose a retirement hometown, Marsha advocated hard for her beloved Duluth, and here we are, six months later. Yes, this will be my first northern Minnesota winter. Yes, I welcome thoughts and prayers. Government, public policy, and social justice weighed heavily in the curriculums I taught at the high school level over a thirty-eight year career. In addition, we were a laboratory school focused on critical thinking in conjunction with technical and scientific writing. So when I found myself adrift on the great ocean of retirement and spied a raft, I jumped at the chance to take up what I’d left behind…minus the bad teachers’ lounge coffee. My position at the NSJ allows me to combine my passions for government and writing, and it’s helping me to feel less out of touch in new surroundings. When I’m not being “Cubby” (Marsha’s favorite new nickname for this green reporter) I enjoy pointing at eagles and saying, “Look, honey. There’s an eagle.” I’ve had an active side hustle as a professional musician for almost as many years as Charlie Parr. As a guitarist/singer/songwriter, I graced the stages of clubs and festivals around southern Wisconsin, including an appearance on A Prairie Home Companion. Should I even mention A Prairie Home Companion, or am I the only one here old enough to remember what that is? Look! An eagle!
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