Northwest Alliance Housing Study
By: Gary Gerds
To better understand the needs of the communities we serve in Polk and Burnett counties, the Northwest Alliance Community Foundation (NACF) recently conducted a study with key local community members who have lived and worked in this area for a number of years. We asked them to name the most critical local issues they see. Their responses focused on four challenging areas:
* Housing: Helping to find creative financing methods for new builds and upgrading of the existing housing stock; perhaps conducting additional research focused on providing more specific information regarding the need for housing serving residents at multiple income levels and stage of life.
* Families: Helping families by working with organizations that focus on providing life skills education, foster care, day care, home maintenance, food, furniture, and other necessities.* * * Jobs: Increasing the availability of trained people having the skills and resources needed to succeed in the existing job market; finding ways to reinforce existing efforts to attract skilled workers to our communities by making it more attractive for employers to either locate or expand in the communities we serve.
* Transportation: Assisting organizations that focus on increasing transportation options for residents; assessing methods to provide residents access to food shelves, family skills education, job skills training opportunities, healthcare, and other critical community resources.
Housing is a huge issue for most of the respondents. There is a critical need for housing for multiple income levels including low income, affordable housing, and attractive, appropriate middle-income housing. There is also a demonstrable need for additional senior citizen housing as currently there are few options for seniors who are contemplating moving out of their family homes. The availability of additional, attractive, affordable senior citizen housing would make it more likely that seniors will choose to move out of their existing homes, potentially making these homes available to middle-class workers who are in the process of deciding to move into our area.
Lack of appropriate housing affects many parts of the community; employers are understandably reluctant to move into the area or expand when they believe they cannot find employees. According to Mark Elliot, Executive Director of Northwest Passage, Ltd., “Much of Northwest Passage staff does not come from this area. Limited middle-income housing is the first issue we face in recruiting. Additional middle-income housing will enable organizations to ‘widen their net.’ This lack of housing also affects the Webster School District and many other organizations throughout our local communities. I am glad NACF is helping to shed a brighter light on this important issue.”
Pre-COVID, NACF convened several meetings with local leaders to find effective ways to develop attractive housing alternatives for all income levels within our communities. NACF plans to continue these efforts as soon as the health environment permits us to go forward.
Gary Gerds is a member of the Northwest Alliance Community Foundation, which is an affiliate of the St. Croix Valley Foundation. For more information, visit www.nacommunityfoundation.org.