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Working Toward Solving the Affordable Housing Puzzle    

Members of the Two Harbors City Council, Lake County Board and both Lake County and Two Harbors Housing and Redevelop­ment Authorities (HRAs) met on January 18th to share their perspec­tives, priorities, projects, and needs to talk about “strength in numbers” and the possibilities that exist in forming a partnership to address housing needs in the Arrowhead region.

Common themes that came up in these discussions included, grant writing, gaining access to funding opportunities, ongoing progress with current construction projects, broadening stakeholder lists, in­creasing community input, and at­tracting developers to work on lo­cal projects.

Like most rural communities, towns like Two Harbors, Knife River, Silver Bay, and Finland face a challenge when it comes to at­tracting development companies to commit to local projects. Construc­tion contractors are all too often more likely to be drawn to larger municipalities where they can bid on projects that entail building high-end, single-family homes and large apartment complexes that will have 300 + units. The proposed Silver­point II and Evergreen complexes will have 36 and 48 units respec­tively and while the size of these projects is more in line with hous­ing needs in our area, they are less attractive to developers.

There is also a lot of competition for State and Federal funds from more populous communities, so, as is often the case, rural communities can easily get drowned out when it comes to the allocation of govern­ment support. The county board and city council members, as well as the folks who make up the Lake County and Two Harbors HRAs, are poised to unite their efforts and resources to address the challenges that exist with being “a small fish in a big pond.”

Each of the entities at last week’s gathering has projects on the table. The Lake County HRA has spent $250,000 on rehabbing Lakeview Apartments. The work there is ongo­ing and will provide housing for 17 occupants when completed. In addition, the LCHRA has estab­lished a housing trust fund and has sponsored Small City Development Grants for Knife River and Finland. Additionally, Silverpoint II is ready to move into the design stage in Sil­ver Bay. Lake County is set up to partner with each of the other or­ganizations and has funds that are available for viable projects. The Two Harbors HRA, in addition to managing Bayview Terrace, is considering mini-grants that could be used to help older homeowners make repairs so that they can afford to remain in their homes. Discus­sions are ongoing with regard to utilizing the John A. Johnson Build­ing and there are other projects on the horizon as well.

In spite of the forward movement on the local housing issue, there are also serious challenges that need to be addressed. There are people who are homeless in Lake County. Ef­forts to provide affordable housing for this population come under the purview of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and there hasn’t been an increase in funding from HUD in the last five years. With stagnate funding and increased costs in housing people in need, human service organiza­tions and HRAs are struggling to make ends meet.

One of the questions addressed at last week’s gathering was, “How can the county and city work to­gether to seek funding, share re­sources, and plan for housing proj­ects?” Collective action is one of the strongest ways to get things done, and with that in mind, rep­resentatives from the Two Harbors and Lake County HRAs and from the County Board and Two Har­bors City Council will be forming a committee from among their mem­bers to streamline and clarify the work of meeting housing needs in Lake County.

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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