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A ray of hope in the housing crisis: Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County

For more information, visit hfhdouglascounty.org.

Habitat for Humanity
In this file photo, volunteers for Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County worked on the framing of a house at 827 Oak Street in Alexandria during a "build day."
Alexandria Echo Press file photo

ALEXANDRIA โ€” The Hard Hat event sponsored by Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County returned to Broadway Ballroom last week.

The venue was packed with visitors as volunteers and others impacted by the program shared their stories.

Tony Loosbrock, Habitat board vice chair and treasurer, said there were three goals for the evening: Learn, inspire and raise.

"Habitat's vision is a world in which everyone has a decent place to live," Loosbrock said. "We believe affordable housing is the foundation from which everything else becomes possible. Unfortunately, affordable housing is a crisis, not just faced globally, but also right here in Douglas County. Because of your support given to the local Habitat, we are proud to share that we are one of the top-producing affiliates in the state, and also in the nation of affiliates our size."

Heather Smith-Ahrens, director of operations for Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County, added, "Habitat is committed to helping more people realize the dream of home ownership because we know the value of home. A home is more than a house, more than drywall, a floor or roof. It's the strong bonds of family and friends, traditions and customs, a place to seek refuge from the busy world, a place to celebrate your triumphs and embrace defeat. A home provides us with grounding in an uncertain world and a positive outlook on what is possible in life."

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Smith-Ahrens said that 48% of renters in Minnesota pay more than 30% of their monthly income toward housing.

"This is just not affordable," she said.

To complicate matters, those costs are increasing, Smith-Ahrens said, with the median price for a home in this area being $254,000 and the monthly payment averaging $1,729.

Meanwhile, the median income for Douglas County is roughly $65,000 per year, Smith-Ahrens said. Thirty percent of that monthly income would be $1,625.

"That's just not enough for the average family to afford the average-priced home in our community," Smith-Ahrens said.

The Habitat homes cost $250,000 to build, and five are being planned for construction this year, she said. In addition, there are also currently 25 aging-in-place projects.

One person who was affected by the aging in place program, which allows elderly people to stay in their homes, was Sharon Boesen, whose sister, Colleen, attended the Hard Hat event.

Sharon suffered a bad fall in 2021, after which time she got involved with the aging-in-place program. The program's workers helped to install a shower on the second floor of her house, along with other work.

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"We are so very pleased with this," Colleen Boesen said. "It has made a difference in her life."

Another person whose life was impacted by Habitat was Brenda Rising, who became a homeowner last November with assistance from the program.

"I can't thank the volunteers enough for their help, their smiles, their encouragement, for the time they spent building my home and their willingness to help someone they never met. You are all amazing people," Rising said.

Rising has three children, all of whom have their own room in the home, and all of whom have been positively impacted by the program, she said.

"I would say the future for them doesn't feel so intimidating now," she said. "When you're in lower-income, things like college feel so far away. Now it doesn't seem like such a big mountain to climb."

"I'm so proud to have been part of this journey with (Brenda) and her kids from start to finish," said Mona Strege, who acted as Rising's mentor. "What a privilege it's been to mentor Brenda.

"I see a difference that people in our communities โ€ฆ can make with each of the homes built, and I'm so proud to have been a part of this process with Brenda."

Loosbrock thanked all those involved with Habitat for their hard work.

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"What an engaged group of people, committed to the mission, in it for the right reasons, they lead with authenticity, they care about each other, they care about the volunteers, they care about our community and they care about the homeowners and those we serve," he said.

For more information, visit hfhdouglascounty.org .

Travis Gulbrandson covers several beats, including Osakis School Board and Osakis City Council, along with the Brandon-Evansville School Board. His focus will also be on crime and court news.
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