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.