By Derrick Knutson—
For the second time in as many years, MWF Properties is proposing building a multi-unit residential housing complex near 400th Street in North Branch.
In 2011, MWF submitted a tax credit housing project for a 40-unit building called “Northside Villas,” which would have been construction on the north side of 400th Street.
The project had the support of the City Council, but in order to qualify for tax credits, it had to meet an array of qualifications set forth by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.
The agency awards tax credits – which are utilized for low-income housing – on a point basis.
MWF’s proposal last year fell three points short of qualifying.
This year, MWF is confident it has a project that will be approved by MHF.
“We’re hoping to provide some of much needed housing,” Chris Stokka, a development associate with MWF Properties told the city council while pitching the project during the council’s March 15 meeting.
“We’re also bringing a $6 million project, so that will bring additional revenues to the city in the form of tax base.”
MWF is again seeking approval from the council to proceed with the project in the city, but there are a few key changes from the previous project.
The main one is the proposed location of the building.
In order to score higher on MHF’s project awarding scale, one parameter is to have the building within 10 miles of a “high growth” area, either industrially or residentially.
The city of Wyoming has been labeled by MHF as one of those high growth areas, and if the structure was constructed south of 400th Street, it would fall within that 10-mile bubble.
Stokka said he’s spoken to MWF about stretching that circle further so the complex could be built north of 400th, but MWF won’t budge.
Another difference from last year’s proposal that has been added to secure more points, is the addition of four units that would be available to people struggling with homelessness.
The units would be restricted to families with incomes at or below the area median income of $22,680. Three people could live in each unit.
A family must have lacked a permanent place to live for one continuous year or been homeless at least four times in the last three years to qualify.
The families would be charged rent, but it would be a lower amount than what other residents of the complex pay.
Families would be eligible for the homeless housing for a max of five years.
Stokka said the focus of the homeless units is “to help the families become independent and work their way up to paying fair market rent.”
The homeless units sparked some discussion among council members.
Council member Ron Lindquist took exception to verbiage in the proposal that stated, “Previously homeless person(s) who will be discharged from correctional, medical, mental health or treatment centers who lack sufficient resources to pay for housing and do not have a permanent place to live (will be eligible for the housing).”
Lindquist mentioned MWF requires background checks of all applicants, and he queried Stokka about how someone who just left a correctional institution could be approved for housing.
Stokka said property management evaluates each application on a case-by-case basis, and if the recently released person is a non-violent offender who would likely not pose a risk to other residents, he or she could be approved for housing.
Mayor Amy Oehlers said some residents might not like having someone with a criminal record living next to them, but those people need places to live.
“When people are incarcerated and they’re released, they have paid their debt to society,” she said. “It’s a hard thing for people to understand, but we have to keep that in our forefront.”
The council could vote to approve or deny MWF’s proposal as soon at its April 9 meeting.
If the project is approved, it will reside in a Tax Increment Financing District and the city will be able to make use of pooling TIF funds that were leftover after the Ecumen senior housing development was built in 2006.