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HRA strives for a continuum of local housing options

At the Red Wing Housing and Redevelopment Authority's annual meeting on Jan. 9, one message was clear: local housing is at a precipice and leadership is very concerned with making the right moves to secure Red Wing's future.

Mayor Sean Dowse said that a lack of senior housing is contributing to the issue. Seniors are remaining in their homes longer and fewer homes are being built. With fewer options for prospective homeowners, some young professionals and families are being forced out of Red Wing — and often Goodhue County entirely.

HRA Executive Director Randall Hemmerlin said there was a time when Red Wing would issue 60-80 permits a year to build a home. In 2016, the city only issued 18 and at its lowest point during the recession just six housing permits were issued.

Finding developers to build multi-family housing units on one of the city's shovel-ready sites has been a challenge as well, with federal dollars becoming less available and more competitive. At this point, the much discussed 62-unit apartment complex that will likely be built in Med Tech Park, while important, is merely placing a bandage on the issue.

Dowse spoke at the event about his experience as a retired person struggling to find housing that meets the current needs of his family. Dowse lives in a house with his wife in Red Wing that was big enough to raise their children, but not right for their twilight years. The Dowses, for their part, would much rather downsize and rent, but the options just aren't available for them locally.

"We want to rent a place with a view, with amenities, with access to downtown assets — like the Sheldon, restaurants, the river, the trail system, the Y. But not enough of these places exist, if they exist at all," he said.

With retirees stuck in their homes, Dowse argues, that means fewer houses are available for young families to live in, raise the next generation of Wingers and contribute to the local economy.

Facade and maintenance neglect is also a factor.

"As I and my wife age and have less cash, we will be more and more incapable and motivated to fix the place up," Dowse said. "We've see this happening around town."

Dowse advised that the city needs to work to develop housing for market-rate renters, like himself, and provide new, stable housing options for low-income renters as well.

"We want a mixture of affordable and market-rate housing so it serves all our residents," said Hemmerlin. "When you think about it, what better place than downtown. I think we'll see more emphasis on housing downtown or close to it."

Hemmerlin admits, as a senior citizen himself, he hopes the issue is solved sooner rather than later. For his family and for the next generation.

"I don't think it's reasonable for somebody who's lived here 40 years to have no place to move to so they move to Eden Prairie or Woodbury," he said. "I don't think that's a good way to look at community. We need to have senior housing available as an option so they can move here — because their home, their family, their community is in Red Wing."

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