THE ISSUES: Where can we put affordable housing?


Our city is landlocked on one side, Proctor and Hermantown on the other side, going as far north as Martin Road and as far south as the St. Louis River. There’s not a whole lot of room to expand – and if the City’s goal is to create more affordable housing options, where do you propose we go? What land is available, if any, to develop on? What are our options around Duluth to build more affordable housing?

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Roger Reinert’s Response
“So I’ll start off by saying, when we talk housing, we really need to be talking about middle market for purchase. That is the primary problem with our local housing inventory issue.

And I’ll use the example of a friend of mine. Single mom, her daughter is in high school, has been desperately looking to buy a home, is a nurse at one of our local hospitals, makes a good income, cannot buy a home in Duluth. Has gone through the process of getting making offers, getting rejected, getting making offers, getting rejected, skipping the inspection, writing the letter to the sellers. Still can’t buy a home. So continues to rent, continues to rent in an apartment that is okay. Not even great. If she can buy the home that she wants to buy, that her daughter wants to live in with the fence for the dog that she wants to have, that opens up other stock.

So, the problem of our housing market being stuck in the middle is creating an ever growing pool of people who need more affordable housing and people who cannot- who have lived here their entire lives and cannot afford to buy a home.

People who’ve had a home for a long time and they’ve outgrown it and don’t risk trying to find another home. And then for our employers, employees coming in who can’t find homes at all. So as we look at what we have available, the City’s job is not to be in the business of building homes. The City’s job is in the to be in the business of doing three things.

Number one, to your question, where are those available building sites? We have 10,000 wooded acres within the City. Many of those sites are not moving forward because they have prep site prep issues and they have utility issues, either aging, current utility or no utility at all. So I would argue that one of the things that we should be doing with one-time money, $58 million federal dollars, $24 million remaining, get those sites ready. Do demolition if that’s necessary, do site prep. If that’s necessary, get the utilities if that’s necessary. Because otherwise what happens is a builder — and I’ve had these conversations, a builder will say I have $100,000 in before I even start building the house. So there’s no way I can get a house to market for under $300,000.

Another thing that we can do is work with our local employers to help with closing costs and even buy down the purchase price with an agreement that that employee is going to stay here, work for that employer for a period of time. If they don’t, they sell that home back. So it’s available for another employee.”

Emily Larson’s Response
“I do love this question. I am a huge champion of housing because that changes everything. Our community is stronger and safer when every kid has a place to lay their head at night and can go to the classroom feeling rested. Every family and senior deserves to live in a housing opportunity of their choice.

As Mayor, I have prioritized housing repeatedly. I convened a Mayor’s Task Force that resulted in several recommendations, which include the creation of 1,700 new units of housing in my tenure. That is more than it has been created in- in seven years. That same time period for decades. We have created a housing trust fund of $16 million. We have done infill housing. We have been tenacious about incorporating housing into every single thing that we’re doing.

So when it comes to affordability, that just has to be a part of it, right? We need deeply affordable housing and I work closely with CHUM the Stepping-On-Up to invest in supportive housing, immediate housing and shelter. We need housing for seniors. I am hearing a desperate need from seniors on the doors. I’ve door-knocked 9,000 doors my, my team and I this year. I’m hearing from seniors who want a different housing option they can afford, which would then create a housing opportunity where they currently are.

And lastly, we have to look at everything. I mean, the City of Duluth is 30% parkland, which is amazing. That’s why we love living here. But it means that we don’t have this kind of scalable development everywhere. We have to be looking at places like K-Mart in West Duluth and Lester Golf. We absolutely have to be turning these parcels into things that grow and expand our tax base, that infuse housing options. And we have to incorporate affordability into everything that we do.

We want to make sure that every neighborhood across the city are ones of choice and opportunity. You don’t want too much density in any one neighborhood. And we know that a mixed income experience is what’s good and healthy to expose people to one another, to share stories and to build relationships.

I’m on on the board of the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund. And again, this is where the relationships, the endorsements that I have from the Governor, our U.S. senators, our whole Minnesota, our Duluth delegation matters. $1,000,000,000 just got allocated to housing in this last budget. We need to be absolutely obsessed with the relationships and the opportunities to get every single penny of that delivered right here for affordability in the City of Duluth.”

Friday night on WDIO News at Six, we ask the candidates how they think we can balance economic growth with preservation?