Sandstone’s The Rock slated to become affordable housing

An iconic former school made of sandstone — in the City of Sandstone — will soon become a place to call home. Once complete, The Rock, as it’s known locally, will be a shining example of the adaptive reuse of a historic local landmark.

Sandstone and the surrounding Pine County area lack housing that schoolteachers, trash haulers, and workers at the nearby low-security federal prison can afford. People who want to move to the community for job opportunities often struggle to find a place to live.

One of the primary reasons for this lack of affordable housing is that it costs too much to build new multi-family rental properties. Incomes in Pine County have stagnated as construction costs continue to rise, so developers tend to pass the region by in favor of more profitable areas. Over the past several years, this has led to a critical lack of affordable homes.

Developers have tried and failed to transform The Rock in the past.. The iconic building was constructed in 1910 out of sandstone that was quarried from the Kettle River Sandstone Company Quarry, and it served as the City of Sandstone’s main school until a new facility was built in the early 2000s. Since then it has sat vacant, a shadow of its former self.

Soon that will change, and The Rock will be revamped into affordable community housing. MHP connected the City of Sandstone with Community Housing Development Corporation (CHDC), a nonprofit developer with experience in complex rehabilitation and affordable housing projects. CHDC helped the City of Sandstone realize the community’s vision for the Rock’s renovation into rental housing using Historic and Low-Income Housing Tax Credits.

Once complete, the building will provide 24 units of affordable workforce rental housing to Pine County residents. Ten units will be reserved for people with disabilities and those who have experienced homelessness. Lakes & Pines Community Action Council and Pine County Health and Human Services will provide supportive services including employment training, mental health assistance, and food support. The building will have on-site laundry, common space, and a management office.

“This project is vital in order to provide quality, safe housing options for all residents in Sandstone,” said Kathy George, City Administrator for Sandstone. “This is an opportunity to preserve an iconic and historic building for future generations. It will also create an incentive for future generations to stay in Sandstone by providing housing that young people working in their first jobs can afford.”

Several community and regional stakeholders have come together to help make this project a reality. Community Housing Development Corporation has worked closely with the City of Sandstone to design, finance, and soon begin construction on the rehabilitation of this important local landmark. Lakes & Pines Community Action and Pine County are coordinating supportive services, and Minnesota Housing Partnership is providing additional funding and technical assistance.

An application for funding has been submitted to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.  Funding awards will be announced this fall.  Construction is anticipated in 2022.