During spring semester 2019, LWV Northfield/Cannon Falls partnered with St. Olaf’s Social Work class on Groups, Organizations and Communities to study affordable housing in Northfield and environs. Culminating the semester was a 3½ hour brainstorming session, led by students in the class, to which community members with varied experience and expertise were invited. These included leaders of housing non-profits like Habitat for Humanity; social workers from the public schools, Rice County, and the Community Action Center; architects; contractors; public officials; youth workers; members of the faith community; employers; community organizers; and LWV members.
At the outset, there was agreement that the Northfield area needs more affordable housing, defined as housing (including utilities) for which the occupants are paying no more than 30% of their income. A 2018 Rice County Housing Study reports that based on 2012 census data 44% of Northfield households who rent were paying more than 30% of their income in rent, and 26% of homeowners were paying more than 30% of their income for their housing (NF-19, NF-20).Employers from places like Three Links, Post Foods, and Aurora Pharmaceutical have indicated that their employees who may be making $50,000 a year have trouble finding housing they can afford.
After two breakout sessions in randomly assigned small groups, all 35 attendees gathered for a summary session.
Discussion Threads and Conclusions
Needs:No one solution for making housing affordable can cover all needs. Variables include age, family size, income level. Housing for singles (coop, shared common space, higher rise, near city center) is different from housing for families (more bedrooms, space for kids, lawns and playgrounds).
Context:Housing involves a network of needs, including transportation, access to services, internet access. Not all affordable housing is safe and healthy. Projects need to balance costs and benefits (short and long term; immediate and environmental; build or renovate; economies of scale or concentration of poverty; rent or own; build up or out).
Types of housing:The range of housing needed includes rentals for large families, entry-level houses for first-time owners, town homes, attached houses such as duplexes, supportive housing, temporary shelter for teens.
Education:New homeowners and tenants often need education on financing and maintenance; the public needs education on the needs for housing and the availability of programs to help.
Government:We should examine ordinances, building codes and zoning laws to see what, if any, changes would help the housing situation. We should see to what extent tax structures are helping or hindering development of affordable units. We should study the city, county, and state budgets to see where resources are going and whether more money could be designated for housing support.
>>Preservation and rehab of current NOAH (Naturally Occurring Affordable Housing)
>>Accessory dwelling units
>>SRO (single room occupancy)
>>Developing underused spaces (big parking lots, for example)
>>Building up—second story apartments on commercial buildings like Ace Hardware building,
>>Public health and social workers in Library
>>Classes in which youth learn to build own homes
>>Guaranteed basic income
2018 Rice County Housing Study (https://www.co.rice.mn.us/327/Housing)
Governors Task Force on Housing (https://mnhousingtaskforce.com)
Minnesota Housing Partnership
Minnesota Coalition for the Homeless
Three Rivers Community Action
Habitat for Humanity
State-Funded Minnesota Housing Finance Agency Programs (https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/pubs/mhfaprog.pdf)