Adaptive Reuse in International Falls could see first multifamily development in a generation

Housing is hard to find right now in the Borderland, but the reuse of the Alexander-Baker building in International Falls will provide 30 units of affordable housing in the community, and preserve a building with rich history. 

“The evidence was there — almost 40 years’ worth. Unless our community made it happen, we knew no one else would do it for us and we knew our community couldn’t suffer through another 6 years with a zero percent vacancy rate,” said Isaac Meyer of KOOTASCA Community Action referencing the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. “Plain and simple: this project will provide housing for our community, our neighbors, and our families, and it will be here and be affordable for the long-term.”

International Falls and the surrounding communities haven’t seen new rental housing development in a generation — almost 40 years. And that’s a huge problem for the area’s potential new workers. 

People have been turning down jobs. In fact, the International Falls Journal has recounted several stories of workers considering a move to the area, but they couldn’t find a home. 

Even if folks can find a place to live, they’re still feeling the pinch because few renting options mean higher rents. Currently, 51 percent of renters in Koochiching County, and 42 percent of renters in Itasca County are experiencing cost burden, according to Minnesota Housing Partnership’s State of the State’s Housing report. Cost burden means people sacrifice food, medicine, and education in order to make the rent.

New housing will help bring rents down, and provide more options for housing. 

The historic Alexander Baker building was a former school and has remained a landmark in International Falls for more than 100 years. The 30 affordable housing units will be created from the old classrooms.

KOOTASCA Community Action and Community Housing Development Corporation, with assistance from Minnesota Housing Partnership, have submitted an application to the Minnesota Housing Finance Authority to secure funding to complete the project. The decision on that funding will be announced later this year. 

“We’re hopeful that MHFA will approve the project,” said Ward Merrill, Executive Director of Citizens for Backus/AB. “Especially given the huge level of support we have received from the community.”

For more information about the Alexander-Baker reuse project, visit Learn more about MHP’s Strengthening Rural Communities program here