Trust fund to support affordable workforce housing in Crow Wing County

Preliminary results of a study show approximately one-third of homeowners in Crow Wing County are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their gross income on housing. Half of all renters in the county fall into that same category.

John Schommer (left), rehab coordinator for the Crow Wing County Housing and Residential Authority, and Karen Young, interim executive director, discuss plans for a housing trust fund approved Tuesday, Feb. 25, by the Crow Wing County Board. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

Officials now have another tool to encourage the expansion of affordable workforce housing options in Crow Wing County.

An ordinance approved Tuesday, Feb. 25, by the Crow Wing County Board establishes a countywide housing trust fund, a permanent and continuously renewable source of funding to help meet the housing needs of moderate, low income and very low income households. The trust fund is expected to provide loans and grants to individual property owners, homeowners, for-profit and nonprofit housing developers and governmental units.

“If people are researching that they want to locate to Crow Wing County, if they know that there’s an adequate supply of affordable housing when they take the position here — they know that they can afford a safe and decent sanitary home — it will just help draw the workforce, and it should help grow the local economy in a healthy way,” said John Schommer, rehab coordinator with the Crow Wing County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, after commissioners passed the resolution Tuesday.

As part of its 2020 proposed budget and property tax levy, the county board authorized a significant increase to the HRA’s levy, setting aside $500,000 for the trust fund. In conjunction with establishing the fund, the HRA hired consulting firm Redevelopment Resources to conduct a workforce housing study in the county. HRA officials are hoping the results of the study, expected to be presented at HRA’s March 11 meeting, help determine where shortages exist and provide recommendations for how to address the issue. This will guide the establishment of programs using dollars from the housing trust fund.

“The study will be disseminated countywide to all of our partners, cities, townships and then the opportunity is out there to use this housing trust fund as a tool along with our other rehab programs to bridge that gap between affordable housing,” said Karen Young, HRA’s interim executive director.


Young said preliminary results of the study show about one-third of homeowners in Crow Wing County are cost-burdened, meaning they spend more than 30% of their gross income on housing. Half of all renters in the county fall into that same category.

“We would anticipate there will be funds available for homeowners if they need rehab, if they need a new roof to extend the life of their home or new windows or new siding,” Schommer said. “It's to maintain healthy homes — decent, safe and sanitary is the goal.

“... On a larger scale, it could be used for multifamily development. That could be a piece of the puzzle that helps bring apartments that are affordable to those income guidelines, the working people this is targeted to benefit. … That’s how we see it actually benefiting people.”

Young said among rural communities, Crow Wing County is an early adopter of the housing trust fund model. The state Legislature passed legislation in 2017 encouraging local jurisdictions to establish the funds. According to the Center for Community Change, which advocates for housing trust funds, the city of Red Wing was one of the first in the state outside of a metropolitan area to set up a fund.

“Facing a less than 1% rental housing vacancy rate, Red Wing opted for action. … With many rural communities across the state facing similar challenges to Red Wing in their rental markets, the Legislature is hoping the omnibus legislation clears a path for other local communities to follow,” wrote Michael Anderson in a blog post on the organization’s website.

In other business, the county board:

Authorized entering a contract with Anderson Brothers Construction Co. for the reconstruction of County Highway 13 between County Road 137 and County Highway 4. The company submitted the lowest of five bids for the project at $2,562,496.98. This is nearly a half-million dollars higher than the engineer’s estimate. The project is expected to begin in May and be completed by September.

Commissioner Rosemary Franzen asked to remove the matter from the consent agenda for further explanation of the higher than expected costs. County Engineer Tim Bray explained to the board the reason for the gap between the estimate and the bid was due to additional risk assumed by the contractor in assuring availability of material for grading the roadbed. Either the county or the contractor must assume responsibility for securing the material such as dirt and gravel, which can be found on-site in ditches, on adjacent property with an agreement with a landowner or hauled in.


County Engineer Tim Bray (right) addressed the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday, Feb. 25, to explain the reason behind a half-million-dollar difference between a cost estimate and the lowest bid for the reconstruction of County Highway 13 in Nisswa. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

In this case, Bray said, the contractor intends to haul in much of the material for road grading.

“We feel that this is the true cost of this project using this specification where the risk is shifted to the contractor,” Bray said. “...It is more than we anticipated. We’re not overpaying for the product, it’s properly designed.”

Commissioners approved the contract 4-1, with Franzen opposed.

The county board also authorized entering another contract with Anderson Brothers for resurfacing County Highway 11 and county roads 105 and 133. The bid was $4,111,121.63, which amounts to $114,613.17 less than was originally estimated.

Approved a memorandum of agreement with partners involved in the One Watershed, One Plan program for the Pine River Watershed. The agreement allows those involved to move forward with the implementation of projects outlined in the plan, which seeks to coordinate protection efforts on a major watershed level across jurisdictions. Involved in the planning efforts with Crow Wing County are Cass County, Cass Soil and Water Conservation District and Crow Wing Soil and Water Conservation District.

The 783-square-mile Pine River Watershed contains more than 500 miles of rivers and streams and more than 400 lakes of 10 acres or larger, covering the center of the northern half of the Upper Mississippi Basin. Within its boundaries are the Whitefish Chain of Lakes, Pelican Lake and the Pine River, a tributary of the Mississippi River.


Heard from two residents during open forum — Bruce Janacek and David Kobs — concerning Crow Wing County’s stance on passing a resolution to become a “Second Amendment sanctuary.” Kobs explained he is part of a Facebook group called “Patriots for Crow Wing 2nd Amendment Dedicated (Sanctuary) County” with intentions of presenting commissioners with a petition asking them to support a resolution to become a sanctuary county.

Local jurisdictions, including at least four counties so far in Minnesota, are increasingly passing resolutions of this type in rejection of state or federal laws believed to be in violation of the Second Amendment, which protects the right to bear arms.

None of the commissioners offered their thoughts on the subject during the meeting. It is common practice for commissioners to offer no response to open forum comments.

Approved a lawful gambling application for an exempt permit for the Church of St. Mathias for a June 28 event at the church in St. Mathias Township.

Approved a number of applications for the repurchase of tax-forfeited land based on circumstances of undue hardship.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or . Follow on Twitter at .
Chelsey Perkins is the community editor of the Brainerd Dispatch. A lakes area native, Perkins joined the Dispatch staff in 2014. She is the Crow Wing County government beat reporter and the producer and primary host of the "Brainerd Dispatch Minute" podcast.
Reach her at or at 218-855-5874 and find @DispatchChelsey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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