In many rural communities, there’s a significant gap between the supply of affordable housing and the number of people who need it. The Housing Institute, created by the Minnesota Housing Partnership, closes that gap through customized curriculum, guided collaboration and capacity building for diverse community stakeholders.
Established in 2010, the Housing Institute brings together housing leaders and stakeholders to share their experiences, learn best practices, and develop creative solutions to bring quality affordable housing to their communities. (Lodging, and food costs provided!)
Over the past six years, the Institute has shown that engaging different stakeholders in truly effective and meaningful partnerships is the key ingredient to completing short-term projects and sustaining long-term relationships that lead to vibrant rural communities and regions.
Key Components of the Housing Institute
Moving beyond individual leadership, the Institute relies on a team model that capitalizes on local expertise and resources. Participants form teams comprised of several entities in a region, often including city, county, HRA and EDA staff. As the convener, MHP doesn’t prescribe the make-up of the team. Each Institute supports three or four teams with five to seven individual members each.
“Never before has there been a collaborative effort by multiple agencies to address housing in Cloquet,” the Cloquet/Carlton team explained in 2014. “Potential or strengthened collaboration and partnerships [are necessary to] increase affordable housing options for Cloquet and Carlton County residents.”
Sustained pursuit of a specific project
Working together over a 12 to 18-month period, teams meet consistently to address a specific housing need or challenge in their community. In the most recent Institutes, teams have worked together to pursue a variety of specific projects, including development of housing studies, websites, senior housing, workforce housing, supportive housing, single family rehab, and more.
“While applying for senior housing development funding has been an incredible amount of work, the resources and support network from the Institute have helped us to work through the process,” said Rose Dunn, the Executive Director of the Mora Housing and Redevelopment Authority.
Creating connections to achieve results
The Institute doesn’t just share knowledge; it creates relationships. In addition to building a team of stakeholders committed to a project, the Institute connects those community leaders to funders and developers who can help make their project a reality. An MHP staff member also works directly with each team throughout the Institute, helping them maintain momentum and guiding them through the development process.
“As a housing developer, Sand Companies has been able to connect with communities and regions in need of housing,” said Jamie Thelen, President and CEO of Sand Companies. “It gives us an opportunity to learn about challenges in many areas of our state and, at the same time, share some of our successes in housing.”
Housing Institute Success Stories
Creating a Full Spectrum of Senior Housing in Mora
Beacon Hill illuminates the power of collaboration
State Funds White Pine Apartments in Cloquet
Like so many communities, Mora, Minn., has a long waiting list to secure one of the city’s affordable rental units. But, in the East Central Minnesota town, a particularly vulnerable population makes up the majority of the list. Of the 208 families, 161 are adults over the age of 55.
“The waiting lists are so heavy with seniors that many of them aren’t living long enough to get to the top of the list,” says Rose Dunn, Executive Director of the Mora Housing and Redevelopment Authority.
The Housing Institute helped Dunn and other stakeholders envision and secure funding for Mysa House, a project that will add 24 units of critically needed senior housing to a burgeoning campus for older Minnesotans.
In 2013, the concept for Beacon Hill was born when seven Itasca County leaders came together for the Housing Institute. Over 13 months, they didn’t just work diligently toward their goal to create 48 units of affordable family and supportive housing in Grand Rapid, Minn; they built the architecture of enduring partnerships that will benefit their region far into the future.
For Audrey Moen, Housing Manager at Northland Counseling Center, the impact of the Housing Institute could be summed up in six words. “Many hands make for light work,” she said at the Grand Opening. “That’s exactly what happened here. We had people from many different levels and many different areas making this dream come true.”
In 2014, a regional housing study forecast the need for 260 new units of rental housing by 2025 in Cloquet and nearby Scanlon, Minn.
For Debra Shaff, Executive Director of Cloquet Housing and Redevelopment Authority, the news came as a challenge for her staff and board. "They were thinking, 'We don’t have tools, we don’t have the resources, we don’t have the expertise or the capacity,'" she recalls. So Shaff developed a local team for MHP's Housing Institute.
In 2016, the HRA received funding for White Pines Apartments, a 35-unit affordable housing complex that will provide both workforce and supportive housing in a community that hasn’t seen new construction in many years.Read the full story.