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Ness Addresses Housing, Jobs, Streets at Town Hall Meeting

Updated: 08/04/2014 10:11 PM
Created: 08/04/2014 8:31 PM WDIO.com
By: Briggs LeSavage
blesavage@wdio.com

Duluth Mayor Don Ness held his first town hall meeting Monday night at The Underground, answering questions from community members about what they see as the city's biggest concerns. 

Ness addressed right away that while Duluth is a beautiful city, it's one that faces many challenges and that many of those come in the form of achievement gaps that affect both housing and employment. 

"...We have to always make sure we're focused on those who aren't doing as well." 

Ness said it's the very low income citizens, students and young professionals who struggle most in Duluth's housing market. It's easy to find contractors willing to build homes for higher prices because construction comes at a higher cost today, Ness said. What's difficult is finding those developers willing to build for those middle-market citizens.

"It's a point of contention for us," Ness said. "...but we have to demonstrate that there is that sort of demand in order to encourage developers to make that sort of investment."

Another gap is in employment, Ness said. He said many people often are discouraged by job opportunities because they don't believe they fit the job description--or can fit the job description--for different positions. Ness said investing in the individual and helping them get the skills they need can be the key to solving these problems. 

He said it's all about giving people a chance--even those with criminal records.

"We want to create pathways for people to make a better life for themselves," Ness said. "Especially those who might have had struggles in the past or have that criminal record and want to be a constructive member of their society and yet their past is holding them back and  almost encouraging them to go back to whatever life they had previously."

Ness didn't need prompting from the about 25-person crowd to bring up the city's street concern. He said it's a problem the city recognizes and that the city does need to find ways to invest in its streets. He also said the City Council took an important first step to fixing Duluth's nearly 500 miles of city streets by passing the street improvement fee last month. 

After one community member asked about the railroad project that could connect Duluth with the Twin Cities, Ness said the city is still a ways off on that. He said this project is highly dependent on the upcoming election and action from Congress. 

Overall, Ness said he was pleased with the meeting and that he hopes to hold another one in the future. 

"It's important to be able to communicate directly with residents of this area and hear directly what's on their mind, what issues are important to them. Our theme for the night was the challenges our community faces and what are some of the problems because the only way they can start to solve those problems is by giving voice to those problems," Ness said. 

Toni Piazza said it was a voice she appreciated hearing. 

"I think it was wonderful to get to have a very candid conversation with Don and hear his thoughts on where our next phase is going to be and where we're going with that," Toni Piazza said.  

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