Working to make more housing options available in Todd County

by Karin L. Nauber

“Go big so everyone can go home” is the motto of the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency (MHFA). It’s important, not just as a catchphrase, but also as a call to action on one of the biggest problems facing much of Todd County today.

So what does it mean?

Well, it means a lot. As we have seen evidence over and over again within the county, there is a need for housing for families, elderly, workers, single people, married people—in short—there is a general need for housing in the county.

It isn’t just at the county level, but at the state and national levels, as well. The lack of good, affordable housing has been an ongoing problem for many years and will continue to be one without some big changes and some big dollars behind it.

According to an editorial piece published by the East Central Minnesota (ECM) Editorial Board in January 2020, in 2020 the MHFA backed up their new motto with a $254 million housing investment.

This money was to be “used to create and preserve more than 2,665 low-income affordable rental and owner-occupied housing units throughout the state. This investment of state and federal dollars will leverage $572 million in private and local funding for affordable housing in Minnesota.”

That is a large chunk of change, but is it enough?

Well, let’s look at some statistics for the state (from the ECM article):

• An additional 300,000 housing units, both rental and owner-occupied homes in all income levels, are needed over the next 10 years to keep pace with growth.

• Preserving the state’s current low-income affordable housing inventory is a costly and ongoing battle.

• Minnesota is the fourth highest state in home-ownership disparity for households of color and indigenous communities in the nation.

And, the problem isn’t just in the larger metropolitan areas. It is as close as your local community.

In fact, the housing issue for workers in Long Prairie was so great that one of the businesses partnered with a developer just to get some new housing developed and built.

These types of partnerships may become the norm rather than the exception.

While the proposal and construction of the multi-unit apartment complex developed rather quickly in Long Prairie, the project to develop the former Eagle Bend/Eagle Valley School has been a bit slower and has hit many speed bumps along the way.

For about 10 years now, Todd County Council on Aging Coordinator Verna Toenyan, along with the community of Eagle Bend, has been working on a senior housing project.

When the Eagle Valley School District was dissolved in 2017, Toenyan and other concerned citizens saw this as an opportunity to turn the building into affordable housing for seniors.

This investment of their time and talents has paid off in small dividends over the past few years, but more work is needed to ensure the project will see success.

According to a housing survey completed a few years ago in Todd County in cooperation with the University of Morris Center for Small Towns, “All ages are concerned about affordability. Inability to find affordable housing is a significant reason that keeps people from moving to a new home. People across all ages and incomes also want to stay near friends and family.”

“Over the past eight years, with strong support from state lawmakers, the total annual investment in affordable housing in Minnesota increased from about $700 million to $1.3 billion, loans to first-time homebuyers of color and from indigenous communities went from 549 to 1,400, and financing of new rental housing went from about 700 to 1,100 units,” according to ECM.

Go big so everyone can go home is definitely a good thing for all of Minnesota.

“The agency’s latest affordable housing awards successfully address the most pressing need of many Minnesotans: To live and thrive in a stable, safe home they can afford in a community of their choice,” stated the ECM article.

This is the first segment of a multi-part series about housing in Todd County. Watch for the second part coming soon.

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