Mary Thompson, executive director of the Hubbard County Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA), said the county will be able to reduce the HRA levy, which for several years, has been set at $170,000.

She met with county commissioners Tuesday at their work session.

“Based on some really hard work by the HRA board, we’re at a position where we’d be able to reduce the amount of the levy moving forward,” she said. “We’re thinking we’d be able to adjust that down so that we would not need as much support for this coming year and we can use some of our reserves, if need be.”

Thompson said HRA was recently able to convert its Cornerstone building, a transitional housing unit. Subsidies only supported that facility for about a decade, she said, “and so the HRA was then charging tenants only 30 percent of their rent, but in most cases, they had no income and we did not have the ability to secure any other rental subsidies. For 15 years or so, the HRA was really funding deficits of that building in upwards of $35,000 to $45,000 every year.”

Cornerstone reached its 20th anniversary. “As a result, Minnesota Housing’s requirements for that facility have been released. We’ve been released from our mortgage, so we were able to seek permission and were granted that authority to convert that building to a permanent housing facility and also make it a rent-based facility,” Thompson explained. “We provide preference to households that are homeless, but they need some sort of voucher in order to move in to pay rent or they can pay rent if they are gainfully employed – because interestingly enough, a lot of the people that are homeless actually have jobs.”

As long as Cornerstone remains full, Thompson said they expect to break even.

The HRA levy largely went toward Cornerstone. “With the rework of that particular building, we’re pretty confident that that alone will help with our needs for 2021,” she said.

Meadow’s Edge construction

Meadow View apartments, another HRA project, filled within three months of opening. The 28-unit apartment building is designed to provide affordable workforce housing at a reasonable market rate.

Construction on the second phase of that project, called Meadow’s Edge, is slated to start in June, Thompson said.

Housing the homeless

County commissioner Dan Stacey asked what kind of transitional housing was available for the homeless.

Thompson said Akeley has some short-term housing, “but that is really a challenge and really a challenge statewide. The priorities of Minnesota Housing have changed so that temporary housing is really, really tough to get funded. The theory is that folks should, if they’re homeless, get into housing that is supportive in nature and allows them to stay there as long as they need.”

Board chair Char Christenson, who also sits on the HRA board, thanked Thompson for her “tireless leadership” to make the HRA financially sustainable.

Christenson said MAHUBE-OTWA is involved in a national program called Whole Family Approach. They’ve found that short-term housing is not effective, she said. “For a homeless person to turn their life around, it takes five years of mentorship and help for them to get on their feet.”

Thompson recommended that in a year or so, the HRA submit a “super RFP” from Minnesota Housing. “They provide the capital funding and then you have to figure out the rest of it,” she explained, saying “Park Rapids should have its own supportive housing project but it would be tailored to have more in-depth services necessary for homeless folks to get that next level.”

Some families are able to recover from homelessness within 18 months, Thompson added.

“I’m thinking a 24-unit facility would be right-sized for the community,” she said.

County commissioner David De La Hunt asked about the prevalence of homelessness and its causes.

Thompson said it’s “significantly higher” than one would think, but is difficult to track because of “couch hopping.”

“We also know there are quite a few single adults with mental health challenges that find it very difficult to maintain housing,” she noted.

Christenson commented, “To me, this is a positive way that government is supposed to work. The former board saw a need and you appropriated dollars, and now this has grown to a point that it’s almost self-sustaining so we can lower the levy dollars. This is just a real success story.”

When asked how much the levy could be reduced, Christenson said it could be cut in half in the next budget, then reduced to a quarter of the original levy the following year.

Thompson said the HRA may ask for project-specific dollars in the future.