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Boreal Community Media

Hamilton Habitat works to fill affordable housing void in Cook County one project at a time

Jan 16, 2024 08:58AM ● By Content Editor
The Little Cedar Project was made possible by a local donor. The home was completed in fall 2022. All photos used with permission. 

By Sammie Garrity for Boreal Community Media - January 16, 2024

For many, Grand Marais is an ideal place to live. It is beautiful, there is lots to do, and it is a great place to raise a family. However, the word ideal is key. Access to affordable housing is a major issue in Cook County with the median listing price of a house being $500,000. It is a problem that severely disadvantages many workers who can’t afford to live in the city that their jobs are in; the people who are the backbone of the community. With long-term rentals scarce and a real estate market that is still reeling from the unexpected effects of the pandemic, finding affordable places to live has become an extreme issue for many people. That is why Anna and Sarah Hamilton, two local Cook County sisters, created the Hamilton Habitat project, a business dedicated to providing affordable places to live for workers in the community. 

Anna and Sarah have been heavily involved in the community since they moved here 40 years ago, and it was then that they first realized there was a shortage of housing. However, due to commitments to their other businesses, they weren’t able to get Hamilton Habitat off its feet until 2018. Sarah Hamilton is in charge of Trail Center, a restaurant and shop off the Gunflint Trail in Grand Marais, which led Anna to coin the position of Hamilton Habitat’s “project manager.” 

“We began this quest together… and I’m thankful she trusts me to do what I do,” said Anna. 

 The organization's first project in 2018.

Initially, they had a vision to create small, one-bedroom houses for people to live in, but have slowly been working their way up to larger options. In the beginning, they built four, one-bedroom homes, and are only going up from there. Next, they built a three-bedroom house that was then purchased by three local nurses who have since made it their home. 

 Jasper Hill, a three-bedroom home.

 The Jasper Hill project.

Most recently, they’re working on two, two-bedroom homes, which were purchased by long-time locals who were on the verge of leaving the town altogether due to housing shortages. 

“This spring she [the homeowner] will be planting grass seed in her own yard,” said Anna. 

 The most recent project, delivered in December 2023. 

It is just the two sisters who are mainly involved in this endeavor, but they do use the skills of their nephew Austen for some project work. However, Anna credited every single person who has donated as part of the project. She expressed her specific gratitude for the person who gave them their first donation. 

“They made it real,” she said, “We will always credit her for our beginning. Forever grateful.” 

Even though they have already seen great success with their project, their work isn’t done just yet. The duo purchased two lots which they call “The Homestead Lots” and are planning on building two homes next spring on those parcels. They are also in collaboration with the Cook County HRA and EDA to work on three parcels of land to build rentals on. Their future goals remain the same, building houses for local community members to live in. 

Anna said, “As long as donations continue, we continue.”

 The Amethyst Hill Project, a remodel in Grand Marais finished in 2021. 

Farther down the road,  Anna and Sarah want to build what they call The Village. Ideally, it would be an affordable neighborhood for people 55 and older. 

The community has responded extremely well to their efforts in accomplishing their goals. Anna shared how this project takes a village, and how relieved she and Sarah are that their dreams have finally become a reality—a reality that is supported and encouraged by the people around them. 

To learn more about Hamilton Habitat, see more project photos, or to donate, visit their website here. 

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