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Habitat has experience, so tap it for Innovative Ideas

Two weeks ago I attended one of the forums sponsored by the city of Red Wing in support of the 2040 Innovative Ideas Series. The topic was Building Smart: Becoming World Class at Housing and Redevelopment.

The presenters were knowledgeable at how to do development right. If we are looking for some upscale, trendy hangouts with nice loft apartments, I think we were well-informed. They encouraged the city to think carefully about what was needed, and how the community would be best served.

They also encouraged the city's efforts to get the community involved. Our community showed up in great numbers. After the great presentations from the three presenters, we were invited to ask questions. There was only one question, it came from several people but everyone that got a chance to speak asked the same thing:

"What are we going to do about the affordable housing crisis in Red Wing and Goodhue County?"

The presenters didn't have much to say. One comment heard was a thoughtful, "That's tough."

After constructing a multiple-story, condo and parking extravaganza, St. Louis Park set aside 18 units for Section 8 housing. At least it was a start.

Tom Osdoba had the most to say about possible solutions to our affordable housing crisis. He suggested that maybe we move away from building large homes in favor of something a little more to scale for the needs of people who live in the lower-income range here in Goodhue County. He also said building with high standards of energy efficiency made sense so that families are spending less on utilities. Lastly, he shared that there is direct correlation between good indoor air quality and healthy living.

At that point I had to laugh. These are the key precepts of building for Habitat for Humanity. This particular wheel was actually invented 40 years ago. This is how we structure every affordable home we build.

There was also a question about how to "crowd fund" a project. Again, a tactic that Habitat for Humanity has been using for decades.

Some might argue that we only make a minor dent in the housing crisis. It's true that we have not been able to change the whole world. but for the families that we serve, we change their world forever. And we could do so much more, if we had more money, more advocates, a larger voice in the process.

It's ironic that the leader in Goodhue County for building affordable, single-family homes has not even been invited to the table to be part of the housing action team. We may only have a minor impact on the housing crisis, but we believe it's better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

John G. Parkes is executive director of the Goodhue County Habitat for Humanity.

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