By Justin Dahlheimer, First National Bank of Osakis president

You may have seen a lot of roofing/siding/window projects around Osakis these past two summers. The Osakis Economic Development Authority (EDA) allotted $150,000 for matching grants that have contributed to 18 projects (so far) on exterior home improvements in targeted residential districts of Osakis. The purpose of this program is to improve our older housing stock, keep property values up, neighborhoods looking nice, and make good use of our existing infrastructure.

The project has been a great example of city entities working together to accomplish the goal of keeping our community beautiful. After noticing a trend in our older homes lacking investment, Planning and Zoning discussed ways to encourage the proper maintenance needed to keep them in good condition. The result of those meetings was a conversation with EDA representatives on potential financial incentives that could be offered. City Clerk Angela Jacobson was resourceful in realizing we had a growing fund of tax-increment from our Queen Street development that could be used for this purpose if the program was designed correctly. Police Chief Chad Gulbranson has been able to use this program as an option for our homes that receive nuisance complaints for needed exterior improvements. Finally, Planning and Zoning has been working to improve the City Zoning Code to allow more flexibility in the types of improvements that can be made to these existing lots — realizing that many were created before two-car households were a thought. In many of these instances, local businesses and local contractors are being utilized, keeping our tax dollars at work, building wealth within our community.

The result of this program is healthy property values that support continued ownership in our community. Since spring, home listings in Osakis have rarely lasted two weeks without an offer, indicating strong demand for homes and healthy prices. Development of new lots is expensive; if we can maximize the use of our existing infrastructure, we can support development of new infrastructure in the future and will have the existing property values to support long-term financing of that development. Also, the increase in property values allows people to utilize home equity loans to continue to improve their homes. The key to healthy growth is improving the housing in our existing neighborhoods, first, then allowing market forces to dictate new lot/infrastructure development. The city has acquired land and has been discussing likely locations of new lot development, but revitalization, in my opinion, should always be our priority.

Thank you to all those involved in dreaming up, executing, and sustaining this important program. It is proof that government can be aligned and effective when it works together. We have enough funding to keep this program going. If you are looking to make exterior improvements (windows, siding, roofing) or demolish and build on an existing lot, please contact City Hall and inquire about this program. We are working to make it as inclusive as possible, but do know that you have to income-qualify due to the use of tax-increment financing to fund this program.

Osakis Voices is a rotating column written by community leaders who share their thoughts in their field of expertise.