Our view: Other needs not being excludedThe focus of a housing summit in Duluth on Thursday is the need for apartments and homes for young professionals, folks moving into the job market after college or moving to Duluth for positions paying $40,000 to $70,000 a year.
The focus of a housing summit in Duluth on Thursday is the need for apartments and homes for young professionals, folks moving into the job market after college or moving to Duluth for positions paying $40,000 to $70,000 a year.
But that focus is not to the exclusion of other types of housing also lacking in Duluth, including, especially, the longtime need for apartments and houses affordable to families and individuals with lower incomes.
“Those are good projects,” Mayor Don Ness said in an interview with the News Tribune editorial board of efforts to assure an ample supply of affordable housing in Duluth. “We continue to be committed to offering more affordable.
“But the real critical need right now is in that market-rate workforce housing,” the mayor continued. Not housing for wealthy Duluthians but for those in the middle, those making “a good wage. They have a good job. They just can’t find adequate housing, whether it’s an apartment or homeownership, that meets their need.”
As the News Tribune Opinion page reported Sunday, 1,000 new market-rate apartments and homes need to be built in Duluth in the next three to five years to meet the demands and desires of young professionals. About 1,500 new jobs were added in the Duluth area between 2012 and 2013. Another 1,500 new jobs are expected to be created in the coming year as places like Maurices, AAR, Cirrus and Enbridge all continue to hire. And it’s a trend that’s not expected to slow down anytime soon, either, with a large number of Baby Boomers on the verge of retirement whose jobs will have to be filled by a new generation.
Without housing for young professionals, Ness and others rightly worry, job growth could wane.
So the summit was planned for Thursday to bring together builders, Realtors, contractors and others, to sell them on the demand and to entice them to invest their private dollars in Duluth and our housing stock.
“It feels like this is a moment in time that we need to take full advantage of,” Ness said. “(The time is right to) take advantage of demand, of low interest rates and of a growing sense, I think, of confidence in Duluth. We need to start building right now so that we can capture that and provide additional opportunities … to grow our tax base.”
At the same time, efforts to create affordable housing need to continue — and are expected to continue. They deserve the continued full support of City Hall and others.
Those efforts include “Build Up Duluth,” a soon-to-be-launched initiative of the Duluth Housing and Redevelopment Authority to encourage the construction of in-fill housing in empty lots in Lincoln Park and in Duluth’s hillside neighborhoods.
They also include the purchase and renovation of the Seaway Hotel in Lincoln Park. With the Duluth Economic Development Authority and others as partners, the Duluth HRA is working to buy what’s now a roach-infested, crime-ridden eyesore for $230,000 and then complete about $1 million in renovations to save 60 or more affordable, single-room units. The HRA would provide services for residents and crack down on wrongdoing.
Other efforts include projects led by Center City Housing, the driving force behind the successful San Marco apartments project. Center City Housing is looking to create or preserve affordable apartments at Gateway Towers and elsewhere, including on private property. And, with others, it’s looking to create “micro housing” in Duluth. Already a success in Madison, Seattle and elsewhere, the small apartments and freestanding homes are satisfying a great need at a great price, even if they look sometimes almost like playhouses.
“It’s kind of a multifold strategy that we need,” said Keith Hamre, Duluth’s director of planning and construction services.
Indeed, so while market-rate, workforce housing is the focus Thursday, other housing needs aren’t being forgotten — and can’t afford to be forgotten.