Cook County Housing and Redevelopment Authority Next StepsSep 10, 2021 08:00AM ● By Editor
By Cook County Administrator James Joerke from Cook County MN - September 10, 2021
On August 24, 2021, the Cook County Board of Commissioners approved a resolution to create a Housing and Redevelopment Authority, or HRA. This marks a big leap forward in the county’s efforts to address its housing challenges.
An HRA is a statutory body whose purpose is to identify housing needs, develop plans for meeting those needs, securing funding for projects, and in some cases, overseeing the construction and managing the operation of housing developments. HRAs can access federal and state funding that would otherwise be unavailable to local governments or private developers. A board of directors oversees policy and plan development, hires staff, and approves expenditures. Under state statute, HRAs are special taxing districts that can be supported by a levy of up to 0.0185% of the estimated market value of the commercial and residential real estate within its boundaries. Any levy proposed by the HRA would need to be approved by the County Board of Commissioners. The City of Grand Marais has long had an HRA which had jurisdiction only within the city limits and had been inactive in recent years. The City has agreed to cede its HRA authority to the new county-wide entity.
So how will things proceed from here? The County is currently soliciting applications from Cook County residents who are interested in serving on the five-member HRA board. Applications are available on the County’s website at www.co.cook.mn.us and will be accepted through close of business on Wednesday, September 22. Experience in housing, planning and development, public finance and/or serving on a board is desirable but not required. Applications will be reviewed by a committee of County and City of Grand Marais officials. On Tuesday, October 12, the review committee will recommend a set of candidates from which the County Board will appoint five people to serve on the HRA Board of Directors. The appointments must be certified by the County and registered with the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.
When it first convenes, the HRA Board will need to organize itself by creating and approving a set of bylaws and selecting a chair and other officers. It will then need to create and approve a job description for its executive director so that it can begin the recruitment process. This process could begin as early as November or December but likely would not be completed until January or February 2022. Once an executive director has been hired, (s)he will coordinate with the HRA Board and community partners to begin developing a community housing strategy.
It sounds simple, but the strategy is likely to be anything but simple because Cook County’s housing needs are diverse. Sure, there is a shortage of affordable workforce housing, but there is also a need for housing that will allow the county’s growing senior population and those with disabilities to live independently and thrive. There is a need for single-family homes as well as multi-family housing. A comprehensive housing strategy will need to include not just new housing, but a plan for maintaining and enhancing the county’s existing housing stock to make it more comfortable, efficient and affordable for those who already live here.
There are several ways in which the HRA can help Cook County move ahead in addressing its housing challenges. First, it can provide a point of contact for contractors and developers who have an interest in building housing here. As it builds relationships with the construction and development communities, the HRA will also be well positioned to secure federal and state grants and loans to support housing construction. It can also work with the County and City to examine ordinances and recommend amendments to enable higher densities, mixed-use developments and residential construction in places where it may not currently be allowed.
The Cook County HRA will only be as successful as its efforts to solicit meaningful input from the community as it undertakes the process of developing a housing strategy. Despite its small population, the county has a wealth of human capital and experience. Engaging the public in discussions about what kind of housing is needed, where it should go, and how best to pay for it will ensure that the housing strategy reflects the needs of those who live here and that new construction is undertaken in a way that is consistent with and enhances the character of this amazing place we call home.
I moved to Cook County just under a year ago, and in just the short time that I’ve been here, our challenges related to housing availability and affordability appear to have become more acute. Like many in the community, I wish there were a simple and expeditious solution to the problems we face. It’s important to remember that just as our housing problems did not develop overnight, they also will not be quickly solved. However, with the creation of the HRA, I believe we have gained a powerful new tool that will enable us to make major progress in the years ahead.
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