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Groups discuss housing woes

Community leaders met with representatives from state housing agencies Thursday to begin tackling the lack of affordable and workforce housing in the city.

“Right now housing is in critical supply in Red Wing,” said Randal Hemmerlin, Housing and Redevelopment Authority executive director, at the roundtable meeting held in the Ignite Building.

The city has virtually no subsidized housing vacancies, less than 1 percent vacancy for market-rate rental properties and no new market-rate rental construction in over 20 years, he said.

The discussion was a chance for businesses and organizations to voice concerns to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, Greater Minnesota Housing Fund and U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development in Minnesota — three of the main sources for housing assistance in the state.

“We want to hear what’s on your mind and how we can collaborate … to figure out how we can bring the resources that our three organizations have available to get housing in the ground in Red Wing,” Minnesota Housing Commissioner Mary Tingerthal said.

Discussion covered a wide range of topics, including preference locally for single-family houses over multi-family development, preserving the city’s existing residential properties and the impact of housing on job growth.

Red Wing is interested in “moderate growth” said Mayor Dan Bender when asked about the prospect of a population increase from more workers living in town.

“We’re not looking to double in size,” Bender said. “But we need to be able to support the demand for jobs with housing in the community.”

Around 6,600 people commute to Red Wing for work daily from surrounding communities, as well as longer distances from the Twin Cities and beyond, Hemmerlin said.

One solution discussed to increase housing and rental opportunities was the idea of employer-assisted housing, in which a company helps employees with loans and down payment assistance to live closer to the workplace.

Warren Hanson, president of the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, said there are a dozen or more examples in the state of employers investing in housing.

“It does work in some communities,” he said, while noting it applies mostly to large businesses rather than smaller manufacturers and shops.

A 2014 housing needs assessment projects growing demand in Red Wing for entry level homes, rental housing for young adults and housing for seniors.

Red Wing HRA pushed for and got City Council approval this summer to create an affordable housing trust fund for local development and preservation projects. The agency proposes a levy increase next year to establish the fund.

The rest of Goodhue County faces similar problems when it comes to availability of affordable housing, with 51 suitable units countywide for every 100 extremely low-income renters, according to the 2015 County Profiles report by Minnesota Housing Partnership.

Attendees agreed Thursday’s discussion was a good start and that a second meeting focused on a specific action plan would be beneficial.

“We’re not going to solve the problem with state, federal or philanthropic dollars,” Tingerthal said, “but a program that’s designed for your community that will get the pipeline unstuck is where we tend to be the most helpful.”

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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