Housing is a hot topic for Willmar and the work of a new mayor’s task force – West Central Tribune

WILLMAR – Housing has become a concern for the City of Willmar and for Kandiyohi County as a whole.

Willmar City Council at its May 2 meeting approved the formation of a Mayor’s Housing Task Force.

“I’ve received many comments over the last year and a half that single-family housing in Willmar is virtually non-existent,” Calvin told the city council, noting that only seven single-family homes were built in Willmar in 2021.” We’ve done a good job with multifamily housing, so a number of people have reached out to me to say they’d like to see a task force set up.”

Calvin said it would work in conjunction with the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission housing efforts and Vision 2040, the grassroots nonprofit initiative that works in a variety of areas to support community projects.

At the EDC Joint Powers Council meeting on April 28, Mayor Calvin informed the council of his intention to form the task force.

The topic was also discussed during EDC CEO Aaron Backman’s presentation of a draft of EDC’s strategic plan, which outlines EDC’s goals and objectives for 2022.

Throughout the plan, the availability of diverse and affordable housing options has proven to be an issue to focus on, along with several other key priorities for 2022-2023.

Alongside Calvin and board members Michael O’Brien, Julie Asmus and Justin Ask, the other task force members are expected to be general contractors, business leaders, real estate professionals and private citizens, as well as representatives from Vision 2040, the Willmar Area Community Foundation and United Community Action Partnership.

About 15 to 16 people will make up the working group, which is expected to meet for about three months or a shorter period. The task force will then present its recommendations to the city, Vision 2040 and EDC, according to Calvin.

Housing discussed at EDC meeting

“We have housing problems, people can’t find it. I think we have a grand total – I was looking for the March housing report that came out a week or two ago – we have a grand total of 19 houses for sale in the town of Willmar, and around 30 for the entire county of 44,000 people,” Backman told the EDC Joint Powers Board during its meeting. “How are we going to recruit professionals, let alone anyone, if we don’t have enough housing? It’s going to bite us if we don’t try to be as aggressive as possible, so at EDC I think we’re as committed as we can be.

Kandiyohi County Commissioner Steven Gardner, also a member of EDC’s Joint Powers Council, agreed that housing is an issue, not just in the town of Willmar, but across the county.

“Obviously with half the population of the county living in the town of Willmar, which I represent in part, that’s certainly important, but equally important is being able to bring out all the areas of the county. And I’m really grateful let that be recognized in this initiative,” he said.

EDC’s goal regarding the housing issue is to develop alternative housing options to increase the availability of affordable workforce housing throughout the county, according to the draft strategic plan.

The EDC committee tasked with focusing on housing issues is business retention and expansion/recruitment, with key partners such as Vision 2040, Kandiyohi County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, council representatives local and local real estate agents/developers, according to Backman.

One of the Housing Committee’s strategic goals includes developing new housing concepts by reimagining housing and exploring alternative and affordable housing options.

Another objective is to assess and improve zoning requirements to allow for expanded opportunities, such as allowing accessory dwelling units, smaller lot sizes, or establishing a small residential subdivision. .

Calvin noted that development should also be encouraged in smaller towns surrounding Willmar, including Sunburg, Raymond, Lake Lillian and Prinsburg.

“I can’t help but believe that we are still missing hundreds, if not more than 500 homes,” he said. “I know someone who has been looking for a house for nine months in Willmar. They have put many offers on houses and cannot find accommodation. Basically, they have to find accommodation by the end of next month or else they’re out.

He told EDC’s Joint Powers Board that the city is considering four areas to develop new residential subdivisions.

Backman told EDC’s Joint Powers Board that Redwood Falls had just approved a $13.7 million project to create a new all-roads, water and sewer subdivision on a site of 325 acres, which will include commercial lots and the subdivision.

“That’s the step they’re taking, because they’re like, ‘Hey, we need more housing, what do we do?’ It’s a big step, a big step. And they may still have to fund tax increases for housing,” Backman said. “It’s costing the city nearly half a million dollars a year just to do that.”

“But if you don’t take those steps, it’s not going to happen,” Calvin added.

There is ongoing contact between EDC and people interested in housing projects, including projects on Lakeland Drive and Willmar Avenue, Backman told EDC’s Joint Powers Board.

The Lakeland Drive project would be 13.9 acres with up to 200 units, Backman added. “So we have interest, we have developers, but I can’t really announce that. They’re still going through the process,” he said.

The Lakeland Drive project would be multi-family rental units, and the Willmar Avenue project would include smaller units like modules or semi-detached houses.

He noted that there was another project that failed due to high bids and material cost.

Jessica C. Bell