Duluth Housing Summit seeks to find solutions to local housing crisis

By KBJR News 1

February 13, 2014 Updated Feb 13, 2014 at 8:08 PM CDT

Duluth, MN (NNCNOW.com) --- Affordable rental housing is extremely tight in large markets like New York and San Francisco, but also in smaller cities, like Duluth.

For many Northlanders, money that would have likely been spent on transportation, food, or healthcare has had to go towards rent... just so they can have a place to live.

A Housing Summit at the DECC in Duluth today strived to find solutions to this problem.

Duluth suffers from a 1% vacancy rate, among the worst in the nation.

This fact brought leaders together at a Housing Summit at the DECC in Duluth on Thursday to discuss how to improve the local housing market.

"This is a crisis that oddly enough Duluth can build its way out of," said Warren Hanson, CEO of the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund.

Hanson says to solve this problem Duluth must develop new single family homes with new construction on vacant lots.

He says the new housing stock will likely look different and be different from the historical housing that exists in Duluth today.

"New housing is going to probably be more compact and the units and the square footage will probably be smaller," said Hanson.

Housing professionals say we're currently in a rapidly closing window of opportunity, post–recession, marked by low interest rates and continuing regional job growth, making this the prime time to create new housing.

"The time is now," said Mary Tingerthal, Commissioner of Minnesota Housing.

Tingerthal says the market's aging housing stock is not adequate for the current population growth, let alone anticipated growth.

"Typically we think of a three percent vacancy rate as being a very healthy market... so you're well below that," said Tingerthal.

Hanson says if Duluth can't or doesn't rise to the occasion and build more housing, it will lose some of the opportunities that are here right now.

Although the main focus of the summit was to discuss building new housing stock for the growing young professional population, there are still rental assistance programs, like One Roof in Duluth, that support the most vulnerable families and individuals.

Elsa Robins