Panel discusses housing in New Ulm

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt (Left to Right): Heidi Rathmann, Daniel Braam, Heather Bregel and Jim Kretsch took part in the Hot Topic’s panel on New Ulm Housing Needs. Topics included an update on the Housing Needs Initiatives (HNI) group and the two ongoing apartment projects.

NEW ULM — The New Ulm Country Club hosted a Hot Topics Lunch on Housing Status in New Ulm Friday afternoon.

EDA and Housing Needs Initiative (HNI) Board member Daniel Braam, HNI member and City Housing Coordinator Heather Bregel, Minnesota Street Apartment Developer Jim Kretsch and Sr. Vice President of Community Housing Development Corporation (CHDC) Heidi Rathmann took part in a panel discussion about recent housing related activities.

Before introducing the panel, Audra Shaneman from the New Ulm Area Chamber of Commerce asked the audience to describe the housing situation in New Ulm in a single adjective. Responses included tight, frustrating, limited, and expensive.

During the 2016 Visioning Seminar the Housing Needs Initiative (HNI) was created and is attempting to expand housing availability in New Ulm.

New this year, the HNI will be merging with a regional-housing needs team. The regional team is currently working on how to absorb the housing needs relating to a project in the City of Gaylord. Gaylord is getting a new medical school which will serve 600 medical student. This influx of 600 additional students will have a regional effect on housing, which is already experiencing a crisis.

“We need even more housing than we did before,” Bregel said. The plan is to work together as a team to solve the problem.

There are four projects developed by the regional team: create of a rehabilitation program for multi-family housing, create regional website, incentive for developers and downpayment assistance program for home buyers.

The State Street Apartment project was a major topic of conversation. Braam explained in the last year the apartments applied for and received tax credit grants through the Minnesota Housing Financing Agency for low-income and historic rental property.

Rathmann works with the organization that acquired the building last year. CHDC is a non-profit housing developer out of Minneapolis.

“We work on public purpose projects that can’t necessarily be financed with conventional financing,” Rathmann said. The State Street Apartments was the ideal project for CHDC.

In October, CHDC acquired the school side of the old State Street Middle School after receiving the tax credits. Currently they are working to separate utilities from the adjacent theater and creating an apartment plan. Since the building is on the National Historic Register it requires a series of design reviews to ensure the building’s historic look is not harmed.

The plan is to build 55 units of rental housing. There is no age restriction on the building, but the rents are restricted to 60 percent of the area median income and family size. Rathmann clarified it was not Section 8 or public housing, but the rent is income-based. In general, the rent for the units will be in the $700 to $900 range.

Rathmann said the timeline is to have the building renovated into apartments by November 2019 and occupancy beginning in early 2020.

Kretsch gave an update on the apartment project on Minnesota Street. Kretsch said the building is an age qualified apartment. Residents must be 55 or older to apply for one of the 37 unit apartment. At this time 20 of the units are spoken for and Kretsch anticipates the move-in dates will be August.

“What we are trying to do is build a community,” Kretsch said. The apartment will include many amenities for residents including bocce ball and pickle ball courts. The idea is to catering to the active senior lifestyle.

Braam said the reason they were focusing on multiple-family housing is because his group learned there is a demand for this type of housing and will free up single-family housing.

The Hot Topics event is sponsored by the New Ulm Area Chamber of Commerce. The next Hot Topic is scheduled is scheduled on Thursday, April 26 on the impact of tourism on economics.

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