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Winona Housing Task Force recommends development tools to go to City Council
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Winona Housing Task Force recommends development tools to go to City Council

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Winona’s Housing Task Force will soon be sending recommendations to the Winona City Council, hoping to ratify a list of development tools and begin to meet the city’s housing challenges.

The group had decided early in the summer to concentrate on workforce and affordable housing in multi-family, single-family and owner occupied units, and it has assembled a list of tools that can help developers meet that challenge.

The options proposed for the city to use to promote development include the creation of Tax Increment Financing districts to leverage property tax money to subsidize development; allocating Local Government Aid and other funds; and waving or reducing building permit fees, land use fees, financial fees and other costs to developers.

The group focused on local options to help fund development because it’s the easiest process to expedite.

Nick Larson, community development specialist for the city of Winona, said that though the task force is listing federal and state options for development assistance, those can often take a year for annual grant and program funding to be approved.

“A big part will be the local tools we can set up,” Larson said. “We can make funding available a lot sooner.”

Another commonality in many of the strategies is having the city council bargain for terms and give final approval.

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For instance, if to leverage development the city decides to waive permitting fees — which reach more than $20,000 for a multi-family development worth $1.75 million — the city council could also include in that agreement that the developer retain affordable housing rates for longer.

The recommendations are expected to go to council by the end of October.

Housing Task Force chair Jim Vrchota said that while work will continue after this, the goal of the “toolbox” the group has assembled is to begin laying out options to start talks with developers.

“What we’re sending to the city is simply the list of the tools we’ve found that can assist us, and we want to get the city’s blessing,” Vrchota said. “That’s kind of what they asked us to do, find how we can assist housing going forward.”

Moving forward, the task force will work with the Minnesota Housing Partnership, an affordable housing advocacy group, to work on promoting development.

The Housing Partnership is made up of people from groups, cities and communities throughout the state and is funded by a number of public and private organizations, including the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Minnesota Housing, the Otto Bremer Trust and others.

At the same time the Task Force will be inviting non- and for-profit developers, both from the Winona area and elsewhere, to begin looking at available lots.

“What we’re sending to the city is simply the list of the tools we’ve found that can assist us, and we want to get the city’s blessing. That’s kind of what they asked us to do, find how we can assist housing going forward.” Jim Vrchota, Housing Task Force chair

“What we’re sending to the city is simply the list of the tools we’ve found that can assist us, and we want to get the city’s blessing. That’s kind of what they asked us to do, find how we can assist housing going forward.”

Jim Vrchota, Housing Task Force chair

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