Jan 7, 2023 | By: Mary Balstad

Itasca Co. HRA to Build Houses That Maintain “Permanent Affordability”

Families in Grand Rapids who are struggling to purchase a home may find a chance to do so in the near future and earn the title of “homeowner.”

The Itasca County Housing & Redevelopment Authority (HRA) recently obtained a grant from Minnesota Housing for the construction of eight new, affordable single-family units in Grand Rapids.

With a total of $9.5 million allocated across Minnesota for housing projects, the Itasca County HRA received $790,000 to make more affordable options for young or struggling families.

According to Itasca Co. HRA Executive Director Diane Larson, in a recent study of the Grand Rapids and Cohasset area, there will be a need for an additional 400 housing units in the next five years.

Four houses will be built this summer, with the rest planned for development in the summer of 2024. The units will be built on a plot of land that use to house the old Forest Lake Elementary School. With these new homes, more developments will come to the Grand Rapids area, including infrastructure and economics with job opportunities.

There will be four two-bedroom units and four three-bedroom units. According to Larson, these could accommodate up to six family members. Families will pay mortgage on these units instead of rent, further solidifying the Grand Rapids area as a primarily home-owned city.

A main draw for these units is that they will be affordable due to the Itasca Co. HRA implementing a land trust model. Through community-driven organizations, like KOOTASCA or One Roof Community Housing in Duluth, and backed by private firms with financial support from government entities, like Minnesota Housing, the land is purchased by the organization, not the individual. By lowering the price of the house, the model allows for affordable options to be built and sold to low-income families.

However, there are barriers to this project. With the pandemic slowing down production and shipping, getting the materials and necessary contractors for these houses can be an obstacle for the HRA. Larson and KOOTASCA Director of Housing Isaac Meyer both acknowledge the struggle with buying locally but sharing the materials with people who purchase from the same company.

But with this project, Meyer notes how developing the land the houses will be located on can allow for in-fill housing. Approximately 20 houses can be placed on the land, but development is not restricted for the Itasca Co. HRA. Private development can occur as well.

The Itasca Co. HRA says the homes are expected to be for sale in late 2023. Since this is the Itasca Co. HRA’s first time building single-family units, it will partner with One Roof Community Housing, who has built over 300 of these types of units.

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