Council hears HRA reportWORTHINGTON — The Worthington City Council heard an update from the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority at a special meeting Wednesday, learning more about the HRA’s local efforts.
By: Laura Grevas, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — The Worthington City Council heard an update from the city’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority at a special meeting Wednesday, learning more about the HRA’s local efforts.
According to documents provided by the Worthington HRA, the organization has several projects in the works this year. About $222,000 of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds (stimulus dollars) will be combined with capital funds to completely renovate 10 family housing units built in 1980.
“The media are saying that the stimulus hasn’t been a success. … I think they need to hold off just a little bit longer and see,” said the HRA’s Rosie Rogers.
Capital funding awarded will also upgrade the Atrium High Rise and other family housing.
In the summer of 2010, $180,000 in funding is expected to be awarded for the possible purchase of property in need of rehabilitation.
The HRA’s mission statement says the organization is responsible to provide safe, sanitary and affordable housing for low-income people, Rogers said, but that extends to helping with housing developments outside of that realm. Current low-income tenants pay 30 percent of their adjusted income for rent.
The organization also provides Section 8 housing vouchers, which allow people to move elsewhere after a year of living in Worthington.
Some council members expressed concern about the potential abuse of those vouchers and the low-income rent program, questioning whether the number of community members who fall into a lower income bracket has increased over the years.
It has, Rogers said.
“Are we attracting low-income people to the area because of a housing opportunity?” asked Alderman Lyle Ten Haken.
“Absolutely. They could live, excluding food and those types of things, for 30 percent of their income and that’s a safety net for those people,” Rogers responded. “If they say ‘I’m not going to take a job because my rent will go up,’ it’s our job to tell them ‘Your rent will go up, but think how good that will make you feel (to have a job).”
“I certainly wouldn’t want to encourage that (unemployed) attitude,” Ten Haken said.
To that end, the HRA does seek and fund job training opportunities for workforce-eligible tenants, but such opportunities in Worthington are rare, Rogers said.
And though she has seen about 30 former tenants become successful homeowners in her 25-year tenure, “We’re more long-term than we are transitional,” she said.
Some measures have been put in place to prevent abuse of the system: students living in HRA housing need to have a one-year track record as a responsible renter, and a family self-sufficiency program allows families to put their monthly rent payments in escrow for a future home purchase. Additionally, unemployed tenants are required to complete eight hours of community service each month.
“I’d like to see more of an emphasis placed on job programs,” Alderman Scott Nelson said, “because this comes out of tax dollars.”
The EDA will receive $88,618 from the 2010 tax levy, which, combined with 427,500 in rental income from this year and a Housing and Urban Development contribution of roughly $227,000 comprises its operating budget. In the fiscal year that will end Dec. 31 of this year, the organization had nearly $558,000 in operating expenses.
Higher paying jobs are needed, said Alderman Ron Wood, who also serves on the HRA’s board of commissioners, to avoid what he called a “chicken or egg” relationship between the need for low-income housing and residents with low-paying jobs.
The HRA is also open to recommendations gleaned from the results of a southwest Minnesota housing study, presented at Monday’s regular council meeting. Among the study’s key findings:
In the area of population estimates and trends, “you have experienced growth, modest growth, but growth. Nobles County has lost population,” Steven Griesert of Community Partners Research Inc. told the council. According to projections from the state demographer’s office, the city has added about 100 people between 2000 and 2008, a number some council members found hard to believe.
“That seems low. Just at Prairie Elementary they’ve seen a growth of 300,” said Alderman Mike Woll.
“We believe there’s an undercount also,” Griesert responded.
In 2008, the city had an average of 2.5 persons per household. “That’s about as high as we’ve ever seen,” Griesert said. “You have a high number of people per household … you’re way above the curve on that.”
The number of households is expected to increase by about 12 per year; losses are expected among those under age 44. while net household growth is projected among the 45 and older population.
The median household income hovers around $46,000, which is an increase of nearly 30 percent since 2000.
Foreclosure rate in the county is 3 in every 1,000 homes. “The good news is that your foreclosure rate is one of the lowest in the state,” Griesert said. “The home sale prices are low compared to others in the state and that has its pros and cons.” Average sale price was $98,440 in 2008 and 2009.
There is a zero percent vacancy rate among the market rate rental housing that was studied.