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Affordable rural housing needs hit home for western Minnesota mayor

Montevideo, Minn., Mayor Debra Lee Fader joins Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton for a photo op during the 2011 Pheasant Opener. Fader said she loves her role as mayor but is withdrawing her candidacy for a third term after struggling to find affordable housing since she and her husband sold their motel business. Forum News Service file photo

MONTEVIDEO, Minn.—The problem of finding affordable housing in rural Minnesota has hit home for the mayor of Montevideo.

Mayor Debra Lee Fader has decided to withdraw as a candidate for re-election. She hasn't been able to find an affordable home to buy or an apartment to rent since she and her husband, Bradley, sold the Sportsmen's Inn, the motel business they operated in Montevideo.

The mayor said she didn't feel right about campaigning for mayor when she couldn't be certain she would be able to find a place to call home. And, it's been stressful worrying about it, she said.

"If you don't have a place to go to, what can you do?" she said.

The experience of searching for affordable housing has shown her just how large the problem really is.

"It's one of the number one problems in rural counties,'' Fader said.

She said rural communities across the state are facing a shortage of affordable housing, and Montevideo is no different.

Fader and her husband have been staying at a cabin they own and remodeled on Lake Minnewaska since they sold the Sportsmen's Inn earlier this year. They had not expected to be able to sell the motel business as quickly as they did.

Fader said she loves Montevideo and her role as mayor. She intended to find a small house or nice apartment to remain in the community. Fader said she has been watching the housing market in the community in a casual way for nearly four years, and began an earnest search this summer.

She's been surprised to see houses put up for sale and snatched before she's even had an opportunity to tour them. Along with being beat to the punch, Fader discovered that there really are only limited numbers of rental units available.

It's the affordable housing market that is the most difficult, she said. There are some upper-scale homes on the market, but many of those happen to be outside of the city limits and, consequently, off limits to her.

While Fader has announced her decision to withdraw as a candidate, she is not certain that she will be able to have her name removed from the ballot. The time frame to withdraw as a candidate has expired. She's been advised that it takes a court order—either due to death or mental incapacitation—to have a candidate's name formally withdrawn.

In the meantime, she's hoping her predicament will at least call attention to the housing needs of rural communities.

"If you want to grow, you have to have a place for people to live,'' she said.

Fader has served as mayor for eight years. Jim Curtiss, who previously served as mayor, filed for the position and is on the ballot.

Tom Cherveny

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoor reporter with the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN.

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