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Affordable housing challenges face Olmsted County for workforce families and retirees

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Affordable housing challenges face Olmsted County for workforce families and retirees Affordable housing challenges face Olmsted County for workforce families and retirees
ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- Remarkable growth is predicted for Rochester and the region, as Destination Medical Center comes in piece by piece.

Also moving in will be the people that build DMC, and then some. However, where they'll live is a question city leaders can't answer yet.

Right now, for people seeking affordable housing options, the demand is staggering, forcing some Rochester workers to live outside city limits. Over the next five years, Olmsted County leaders have the enormous task of creating thousands of homes, and the clock is ticking to give people a chance to call our area home.

"We have a lot of work to do. A lot of work to do," said worried Consuelo Cohen, as she looks around her community, she sees people struggling.

"People are trying to find that affordable house so they can just make ends meet, because it's getting to the point where either you can afford to live here or you can't," said Cohen.

At an Olmsted County Housing Summit in 2013, Cohen declared the need for programs to help families get a roof over their heads.

"I think it's important for us to give people a hand up and not a hand out, and some people just need that opportunity to get on their feet," she said.

Preparing for a DMC population surge, county commissioners are scrambling to fund the creation of more than 2,000 affordable homes for new workforce employees and baby boomer retirees.

"If we're going to start this process in the very near future we need [to start] in the next few months," said Olmsted County Board of Commissioners chairman, Paul Wilson.

Right now, the average cost of an Olmsted County home is nearly $200,000, a price tag most working families simply can't afford. Affordable homes such as those at Cascade Creek and Weigel Place apartments in Kutzky Park are going fast.

"Out of every 100 homes or facilities, you have one available," said Wilson. "That's not a good situation to be in."

"The last time I heard I think there was 300 people on the waiting list -- that's a lot," said JoAnn Stormer of the Rochester Area Foundation. "That's a lot of people who are looking for resources."

Stormer has voiced support for an Olmsted County Housing & Redevelopment Authority levy to finance expanded affordable housing options, which is still being debated amongst commissioners.  Rochester Area Foundation has helped provide hundreds of affordable homes to families over the years.  Greater Minnesota Housing Fund identified an HRA levy as an untapped local resource that, if passed, could leverage other resources in the effort.

According to a public finance consultant, the impact would be approximately $31 per year on an average $200,000 home.

Without the levy, Stormer said the waiting list will grow. Wilson said he hopes the transparency of the levy would help garner support for the effort.

"I do know that there are other groups, other businesses that are growing and flourishing, but they want people to have a place to live," said Stormer. "A nice place to live, a good place to live, a decent place to live because otherwise, they're not going to stay around."

Cohen was one of those that stayed, after first arriving to Rochester homeless, before finding affordable housing. She has helped keep others here, too.

"I have opened my door to quite a few families that have lived here with me, and I know the struggles of not having that opportunity, or not having the door open right away for you," said Cohen. She will keep that door open by keeping the conversation alive about needing a place to call home.

"I want people to really take note and really see the need and really come together to do something about it," she said. "I don't want us to just talk about change, I want us to make changes."

Wilson said the change is possible, and the county can make 10,000 homes over the next 20 years. The board hopes to hammer out a funding solution by next month in order to break ground on this affordable housing dilemma. 

The county is keeping an eye on several workforce housing bills through the state Legislature that aim to provide grant programs toward Greater Minnesota areas.
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