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COMMENTARY: Bonding bill needed now for affordable housing in Minnesota

By Skip Duchesneau, President of D.W. Jones, Inc., Walker, MN

Across Minnesota, rents are rising and income is falling. Since 2000, here in Douglas County, rents have jumped 16 percent while income has declined 5 percent – making housing a significant burden for a growing number of families. As president of D.W. Jones Inc., a developer and property manager in Northern Minnesota, I see those families’ need for affordable homes every day.

That’s why we’re working in Alexandria to construct Deer Ridge Townhomes II: a 23-unit development geared toward families with children. To make that happen, though, we need to apply for bonds through the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, which has been the most reliable resource for affordable housing for years. For every dollar I receive in state housing bonds to construct affordable units, I can leverage additional dollars in private capital.

But, because of the inaction of our state leaders that reliable source of funding, which would enable us to construct that much-needed development, is in jeopardy. Unfortunately, our Legislature failed to pass a bonding package this session, so we currently sit with zero dollars for affordable housing investments.

We know the need goes far beyond Deer Ridge Townhomes too. For instance, statistics presented at the Alexandria Area Housing Community Dialogue in May show that 30 percent of homeowners in Alexandria are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing costs. Just last week, new research from the National Low Income Housing Coalition further revealed that workers earning the minimum wage need to work 59 hours per week to afford a typical two-bedroom unit in Douglas County. Key investments from Minnesota Housing Finance Agency are critical to update and expand Douglas County’s affordable housing stock, and address this growing crisis across the state.

When families can afford safe, stable homes they have the opportunity to thrive and contribute to their communities. Gov. Dayton, Majority Leader Bakk and Speaker Daudt must all agree to call a special legislative session and pass a bonding bill that invests in Greater Minnesota and our housing needs. Otherwise, the affordable homes in Douglas County, that families need right now, will sit on the shelf for another year.