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Event addresses southwest Minnesota housing crunch

Scott Marquardt fields questions at the housing meeting Wednesday afternoon at the Country Club in Worthington. (Brian Korthals/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON — In a day-long event Wednesday, representatives from Minnesota Housing led a discussion on the housing needs in southwest Minnesota.

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“It’s a big problem that we’re all going to have to work together on,” said Lisa Graphenteen from the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership.

Among those in attendance from Minnesota Housing wereCommissioner Mary Tingerthal, Warren Hanson from Greater Minnesota Housing Fund and Colleen Landkamer from USDA Rural Development.

During her opening comments, Landkamer applauded the group in the room.

“What you see with the three agencies here is you see a partnership,” she said. “It takes leadership in the community. That’s what great about coming to Worthington is the leadership.”

The main discussion during the day focused on the lack of housing in the region. Whether it be workforce rental housing or single-family units, the common thread was there just aren’t enough places to live.

“It really is something that’s community-wide,” Graphenteen said. “We need to look at how we can bring together all the sectors. How can we bring people to the table and have an increased role an participations by community members?”

Another issue is the number of people who are commuting from other towns into work.

“We lose opportunities for people to live locally or shop locally,” she said. “They maybe aren’t spending their dollars at local grocery stores or having their children in school.”

According to her report, about 3,800 people commute to Worthington daily, with many of those coming from Sioux Falls, S.D., Sibley, Iowa, Adrian and Brewster.

In Jackson, about 1,800 people commute daily, while Windom has 2.200.

The event, which was at Worthington Country Club, started with lender training.

By late morning, the discussion turned to the issues of housing in the southwest corner of Minnesota.

Minnesota Housing’s Jessica Deegan said Worthington is a little different than some of the other areas in the region.

“Worthington is younger, there are more renters,” Deegan said. “There are a lot of immigrant families with larger households than there are in the rest of the region. The rest of the region, in general, has an older population and an older housing stock.”

Graphenteen gave a more local perspective from the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership.

“While there have been some increases in rent, the construction costs have increased at a much greater level,” she said. “It’s creating a greater gap in our projects in terms of how we can finance them.”

According to housing studies done in local communities, there is a need of more than $151 million to meet the demand.

In Worthington alone, nearly $67 million is needed to meet the demand of renter and owner-occupied housing.

“If you have a community that levies $3 million a year, the city is not going to be the one to take the lead role,” Graphenteen said. “It really quantifies for us how important it’s going to be to bring together various partners within the community to work toward those needs, because it is so great.”

In the afternoon, discussions varied from workforce housing to single family rehabilitation to homeownership opportunities to rental rehabilitation and preservation.

“The problem we have is industrial growth, but you can’t cash flow a multi-family facility,” said Dennie Schoenrock, representing the city of Jackson. “We have one industry that is going to do a multi-million dollar expansion in the next few years. In a population of 3,400, it’s huge. It’s caused other economic growth in our town. But yet we can’t cash flow a multi-unit facility. Why?”