It all began with an in-depth Housing Study commissioned by the Housing Redevelopment Authority of Crow Wing County, Minnesota. Pointing to a dire lack of affordable workforce housing, the study prompted county leaders to look for concrete solutions to meet the region’s needs. Within a year, the Crow Wing County Housing Trust Fund was not only established, but had received its first infusion of tax dollars, projected to total about $500K annually.
Largely funded by a property tax levied by the county’s Housing Redevelopment Authority (HRA), the Housing Trust Fund was created by an ordinance unanimously approved by the County Commission. It is a permanent and continually renewable source of revenue, providing grants and loans to property owners, affordable housing developers, and local governments for the creation of new affordable and workforce housing, both rental and owner-occupied.
Bill Brekken, a Crow Wing County Commissioner – and a REALTOR® – credits the leadership of Dolly Matten, Executive Director of the Greater Lakes Association of REALTORS®, as key to the process that made the Housing Trust Fund a practical reality. “Dolly is deeply involved in the community and recognized the importance of the Housing Study; she single-handedly secured the Housing Opportunity Grant from the REALTOR® Party that helped fund it. But more than that, she brought tremendous expertise and insights to the committee that evaluated the Housing Study, and her contributions have really raised the profile of the local REALTORS® association.”
Matten, in turn, credits Jennifer Bergman, who served as Director of the Crow Wing County HRA at the time, with commissioning the study and having the vision to involve administrators from all eighteen of the county’s cities, as well as major employers, and, of course, the REALTORS®. “We were honored to be involved,” she says. “Beyond the funding, our added value was the ability to provide statistics from our REALTOR® Property Resource that were far more up-to-date than the two-year-old census data,” she notes, adding that having a knowledgeable REALTOR® like Brekken on the Board of County Commissioners is invaluable. “He and the County Administrator met with the HRA Director; he drafted the ordinance creating the Housing Trust Fund; and he drummed up the support of his fellow Commissioners, the Chamber of Commerce, and various economic development organizations. Bill really took the ball and ran with it, with amazing results!”
Brekken notes that while it might seem unusual for the REALTORS® to support a property tax levy, the residents of Crow Wing County are likely to support a tax that stays within their communities, which is exactly what the Housing Trust Fund will do. From an extensive seasonal hospitality industry challenged with housing hundreds of temporary employees from overseas, to a metal die-cutting company that would hire fifty workers right away if there were a place for them to live, the prosperity of the local economy depends on affordable workforce housing, and the community understands and values that.
One of the critical next steps is encouraging builders and developers to step up and take advantage of the incentives offered by the new fund, says Brekken. The HRA, which administers the fund, expects to leverage its assets, hoping for the investment of two-to-three dollars for each one contributed by the Housing Trust Fund. Matten will be focused on educating her membership about the benefits of the fund to individual clients and property owners.
“Thanks to the REALTOR® Party,” reflects Matten, “as a local REALTOR® association, we’re uniquely positioned to bring significant resources to these challenges, and to know where to spend them. As REALTORS®, we understand what’s needed, and where. I always say, if you want to know what’s going on in a community, ask a REALTOR®!”
To learn more about how the Great Lakes Association of REALTORS® is using REALTOR® Party resources to solve regional affordable housing challenges, contact Association Executive Dolly Matten at firstname.lastname@example.org or 218.828.4567, or Crow Wing County Commissioner Bill Brekken at email@example.com.