County supports pursuit to provide housing for homeless
At least 104 people in Douglas County won't be home tonight. There are 43 homeless adults and 61 homeless children in the county. That hit home with Douglas County commissioners and the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership (SWMHP).
SWMHP is applying to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency for low-income housing tax credits to redevelop six units of the Lakewood Apartments in Alexandria into permanent supportive housing for long-term homeless households.
As part of the application process, Douglas County commissioners permitted Social Services Director Mike Woods to sign a letter of recommendation showing support from the local human service department.
"This project certainly fits into my department's plan to develop supportive housing for individuals and to end homelessness," Woods said. "We have a homeless problem and it doesn't appear to be going away anytime soon."
Justin Vorbach, SWMHP supportive housing specialist, said the overall idea is for Lakewood to continue to offer affordable housing in Alexandria. Currently, it is the only apartment complex offering the service to the community.
"Tax credit motivates investors to invest in this rehab for all of the units," Vorbach said. "Our agency is putting $20,000 a year into supportive services from the development itself." SWMHP would absorb costs if rents needed to be adjusted on the units.
Commissioner Jerry Johnson expressed concern over residents outside of Douglas County taking advantage of the opportunity.
"Can people just move in from Chicago, Detroit or Mandan, North Dakota and declare themselves homeless here and get an apartment?" Johnson asked.
Vorbach explained that priority is given to people who are local and that documentation of homelessness is required. Similar projects have been successfully completed in Mankato, Worthington and Wilmar, Vorbach said. No instances of people relocating to gain access to units has been recorded.
Units are reserved for people who are considered long-term homeless. Vorbach explained it is not transitional housing and is for those who have for some reason not been able to sustain independent living without having someone check in on them.
Area housing and redevelopment authorities (HRA) work with social workers to help rehabilitate people into the community. Vorbach said SWMHP is hoping to work with the Alexandria HRA. The Clay County HRA has regional vouchers that can be used in Douglas County.
Woods explained units at Lakewood are affordable housing whereas subsidized housing is income based.
"Rent for a 3-bedroom is $600 to the individual," Woods said. "It's not a 30 percent of income kind of subsidy."
Lakewood Apartments has a total of 72 units. In July 2012, SWMHP borrowed money and took ownership of the complex by Lake Agnes on Kenwood Drive in Alexandria. SWMHP is looking to invest $2.5 million in energy efficiency, ventilation and safety improvements for the 35-year-old buildings.
"It wouldn't be a case of relocating or moving people out," Vorbach said. "As units turned over, we would incorporate permanent support housing for long-term homeless."
CONTINUED COURTS CONSTRUCTION
The $2.2 million Douglas County courts remodel project has resurfaced. Work is projected to begin this fall.
Larry Filippi with Contegrity Group presented commissioners with a preliminary project description. The courts remodeling is estimated to cost $980,540; courtroom buildout, $491,821 and court administration relocation to lower level, $73,800. Cameras and card readers could cost $75,000. A total of $617,181 is expected to be paid out in general conditions, contingency, construction management and architectural and engineering costs.
Commissioners plan to meet with court administration to finalize plans in the months prior to work beginning later this year.
Crystal Dey Crystal Dey is a staff reporter for the Echo Press. Originally from Minnesota's Iron Range, Dey worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Florida and Connecticut before returning to her home state to join the Echo Press in October 2011. Dey studied Mass Communications at Minnesota State University Moorhead with an emphasis in Online Journalism. Follow Staff Reporter Crystal Dey on Twitter at @CrystalDey_Echo.