More than 500,000 households across the state are cost burdened and struggle to find affordable housing opportunities, said Diane Larson, Interim Executive Director of the Grand Rapids Housing & Redevelopment Authority (HRA). During a department head report to the City of Grand Rapids councilors on Monday, Larson provided an overview of HRAs throughout the state, as well as discussed the local Grand Rapids and Itasca County organizations and a potential merger between the two entities.

According to Larson, there are 151 HRAs serving communities throughout Minnesota, all of which are independent agencies governed by state statutes. 

“We are here to provide a sufficient supply of adequate, safe and sanitary dwellings, to clear and redevelop lighted areas, and to remedy the shortage of housing for moderate and low income residents,” explained Larson of the HRA’s mission.

According to Larson, “what’s important is that we do our work in situations in which private enterprise will not act without government participation or subsidies.”

“So we are certainly not in competition with the private market, but we are there to provide affordable housing opportunities where the private market is not providing those opportunities, and/or to partner with private developers,” Larson continued. “I like to think of HRA’s as being part of the local economy.” 

In the state of Minnesota, there are approximately 580,000 households who pay over 30% of their income toward rent and utilities, Larson explained, adding that those households are called “cost burdened.”

The federal housing programs and the public housing programs that the majority of housing authorities provide are critical to reducing the number of cost burdened households across the state and in our own community, Larson continued. (In the state, there are nearly 20,000 public housing units.)

These programs, as well as other housing authority investment programs and the people they serve, provide investment into local communities.

In 84 out of 87 counties in Minnesota, there is a shortage of affordable units for extremely low income renters, said Larson. 

To assist with this issue, there are a number of opportunities provided by HRAs throughout the state, including housing authority-funded projects, as well as assistance these organizations provide to private developers.

“Housing authorities often work with private developers to develop affordable housing and attract new development into their communities,” Larson explained, adding that they also often provide commercial and residential redevelopment programs to bring properties up to code and retain property values.

The Grand Rapids HRA was created in 1966 by the city council. It is a political subdivision of the city and is a unit of local government. 

When Larson looks at what the local unit does, she said she thinks of three core activities.

“First, we own and operate public housing,” Larson said. Currently, the Grand Rapids HRA provides 92 units of public housing in the city in two different units. Sixty-nine percent of the population in the local public housing is aged 62 and over, Larson explained.

“Our second core line of business is the ownership of Crystal Lake Townhomes,” said Larson. The townhomes provide services to local families in need of affordable housing. 

“We expended a lot of staff time and energy into this property,” said Larson. In December 2018, the property had 13 vacancies out of 48 units, a number Larson said was “quite high.” Today, Larson said, the vacancies in the townhomes is down to three. 

“We expect that to be down to zero in the next month or so,” said Larson. 

The Grand Rapids HRA’s third core line of business is LakeShore Place apartment homes, which are designed for adults aged for 55 and older, Larson explained.

Vacancies at all of the local HRA properties is in the 5-6% range, Larson continued. This is consistent with the market. Larson said they anticipate that number to decrease as a result of waiting lists for the properties.

Also discussed on Monday were a number of new initiatives the Grand Rapids and Itasca County HRAs have begun working on, including a potential merger between the two organizations, which now are co-located under one roof. A committee has been formed and, over the course of the next 12 months, will be discussing the pros and cons of a merger. 

Also discussed was a housing study which is currently being completed in four local communities including Grand Rapids, Cohasset, Bigfork and Nashwauk. 

“Each community will have its own separate housing analysis study. I think we will get a lot of good information out of that study,” said Larson.

The study is expected to be completed in September 2019. Public presentations of that market presentation will take place after it is completed.

During the meeting, the council:

• Approved council minutes for the Monday, Aug. 12 worksession and regular meeting.

• Approved the verified claims for the period Aug. 6 to Aug. 19, 2019, in the total amount of $1,533,098.10.

• Reviewed and acknowledged the following minutes for boards and commissions: July 10 Library Board minutes; July 16 Golf Board minutes; July 17 Public Utilities Commission minutes; and July 17 Housing and Redevelopment Authority minutes.

• Authorized Hawkinson Construction to overlay the basketball court at Maplewood Park.

• Accepted quotes and authorized awarding the low quote to PCiRoads, LLC in the amount of $71,948 for the Bridge 31514 (Horn Bridge) Maintenance Project.

The council also approved the following consent agenda items:

• Approved a resolution accepting an in-kind donation from Waste Management of refuse service for Tall Timber Days valued at $510.

• Adopted a resolution accepting a donation of $50 from Robert and Leatha Lemen of Arbo Township to the police department’s K-9 program.

• Authorized the police department to sell three forfeited vehicles, two city owned retired squad cars and one abandoned vehicle at the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources auction located in Grand Rapids.

• Adopted a resolution accepting a donation in the amount of $806.50 from Timberlake Lodge.

• Adopted a resolution accepting a donation in the amount of $8,000 from Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union to be used for the resurfacing of the basketball court at Maplewood Park.

• Approved an on-sale 3.2 Malt Liquor License and on-sale Wine License with strong beer authorization for Hotel Rapids Inc.

• Authorized the mayor to sign a service agreement renewal with SVL for the maintenance program on the library chiller.

• Approved Change Order 4 related to CP 2019-1, Golf Course Road Utility Extension-Great River Acres.

• Approved the hiring of regular part-time employees at the Grand Rapids Park and Recreation Department and the IRA Civic Center.

• Approved the hiring of golf course employees.

• Entered into an equipment rental agreement with the Itasca Curling Club.

• Approved the terminations of regular part-time employees from the Parks and Recreation Department and the IRA Civic Center.

• Approved the 2019 wage adjustments for current part-time employees for the Civic Center/Parks and Recreation Department.

• Adopted a resolution accepting $39,150 for a 2019-2020 Toward Zero Deaths Grant.

All council members were present for the meeting and there was no public input. 

The next regular meeting of the Grand Rapids City Council is scheduled for Sept. 9, 2019, at 5 p.m.

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