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Boreal Community Media

Cook County Connections: The Cook County Housing and Redevelopment Authority

Sep 23, 2022 08:43AM ● By Laura Durenberger
Photo: Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce

From Cook County, Minnesota - September 23, 2022

By: Jason Hale, Executive Director 

The Cook County Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) was established by County Board resolution in August, 2021. The HRA Board held its first meeting in November, 2021, and its Executive Director’s first day was April 25, 2022. The mission of the HRA is as follows:

The Housing and Redevelopment Authority of Cook County catalyzes and advocates for the creation of safe, stable, and attainable housing opportunities for current and future residents.

Since April the HRA has, like many new small organizations, worked on establishing policies and procedures, crafting an immediate workplan, laying foundations for a strategic plan and ensuring it has contracts and systems in place to operate effectively.

Concurrently, the Director has been working to generate new housing projects for 2023-2024. This process has included:

  • Meeting with businesses, boards, citizens groups, local government, and non-profits entities to gain a better understanding of specific needs and challenges.
  • Researching the scope and details of the housing needs county-wide, including issuing a survey on the rehabilitation needs in the county.
  • Researching available funding programs and meeting with funders about opportunities to collaborate.
  • Understanding past efforts and assessing present opportunities for housing projects.
  • Meeting with various private and public entities about opportunities to acquire land for housing.
  • Meeting with developers, businesses, and contractors about potential projects for 2023-24.
  • Presenting at boards, businesses, and events about housing to provide education and context surrounding our housing needs and opportunities for the HRA.

As readers will know, Cook County has struggled with housing for decades. The HRA has not been seeking to answer the question, “Is there a shortage of housing in Cook County?”, rather we have been focusing on discerning where, how much, and what kind of housing is needed. According to the recent Housing Needs Analysis, Cook County could absorb over 500 new units by the end of 2026. While Every community in the county would benefit from additional housing, some make more sense to focus on than others.

For example, there is likely a need for housing at the end of the Gunflint Trail, however, that need is much less than the demand for housing in and around Grand Marais. This is not to say we will not try to provide housing County-wide; to the contrary we are working on potential projects across the West-end and exploring other opportunities east and north of the city. That said, it is incumbent upon the HRA to be good stewards of our resources and to go where there is energy, resources, and the needs are greatest, especially considering our minimal staff.

After establishing the demand for a specific type of housing and where that housing could be well-received, the next step is to find specific sites on which housing can be built. Presently, the HRA is working on securing and/or making ready four discrete properties located in Schroeder, Grand Marais and Tofte for future housing development. The goal is to assemble these sites, understand what could and should be built there, and find development partners who are willing to collaborate and invest in our community.

To that end, the HRA is working to secure several multifamily projects of various scopes and that address diverse needs. From micro-apartments to 2-bedroom units, we seek to provide housing for our workforce: we are collaborating with One Roof Community housing on a workforce housing project in Lutsen and with an Iowa-based developer on a mixed-income apartment project in Grand Marais to meet this objective. Additionally, we are exploring new single family home development options, though this is more difficult outside of Grand Marais due to the lack of public sewer and water services.

There is an intimidating list of challenges we face in our efforts to create new housing in Cook County: the cost of construction, limited developable land, limited construction season, limited contractor availability, prevalence of bedrock, wetlands and water, limited public infrastructure, and on it goes. None of these are individually insurmountable, but combined they explain why Cook County has long struggled to produce the housing it needs. Despite these obstacles, the HRA remains optimistic about tackling our housing problem. As evidenced by the creation of the HRA, the community understands that we must get involved and roll up our sleeves; we have to be creative and try new things, and that is exactly what we intend to do.

 

County Connectionis a column on timely topics and service information from your Cook County government. Cook County - Supporting Community Through Quality Public Service.


Related: A Boreal Community Media exclusive - Cook County needs more housing: A conversation with HRA Director Jason Hale - Part 1

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