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Young mothers housing approved for repairs in West Duluth

The St. Louis County Board gave its initial go-ahead Tuesday to join an effort funding facility updates to a local YWCA housing and child care center.

YWCA  Spirit Valley facility .
The YWCA Spirit Valley facility as seen on Wednesday.
Steve Kuchea / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — A critical YWCA facility in West Duluth is expected to receive repairs as soon as this summer that would restore its capacity for housing and serving young mothers.

“Right now we have seven efficiency apartments, but only four are able to be used,” Chelsa Nelson-Preble, YWCA board president, told the St. Louis County Board on Tuesday in Duluth.

“We can’t currently keep people in the apartments because of disrepair that’s happening,” Nelson-Preble added.

The YWCA sought $108,534 from the County Board in the form of federal pandemic relief funding.

In addition to transitional housing, the YWCA facility in Spirit Valley is home to an early childhood center with capacity for 60 children.

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Commissioners were unanimous in giving their initial support for the funding after learning lengths to which the YWCA had gone to create a host of partners, including a contractor, The Jamar Co., and funding from the city of Duluth ($50,000), state ($20,000), and an additional request to The Ordean Foundation.

“I walked into this room being an absolute no vote,” Virginia-based Commissioner Keith Nelson said, changing tune after learning of an already existing agreement with union labor to conduct the work.

“These are things that matter to the board," Nelson said of the project labor agreement in place. "These types of projects are impactful.”

The point about partnerships was also hammered home when the board also agreed Tuesday to match $101,250 in funding for a broadband project around Ash Lake in northern St. Louis County. Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation matched the same amount of funding as the county for a project that will bring high-speed internet to 60 homes.

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Before its decision on the YWCA, the County Board heard from the organization's leaders, including Natasha Lancour, young mothers program director.

“A big part of you helping us is us helping St. Louis County,” Lancour said, noting how YWCA programs help lift up the area's young families.

The housing program at the YWCA requires young mothers to be Minnesota residents, and officials described it as helping women from all over the state, in addition to local families.

“To be a parent, you get it thrown on you (when) you might (still) need that skill set,” said Commissioner Mike Jugovich, of Chisholm, who is appreciative of parenting classes and social work that is part of YWCA housing.

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“You pick up skills that will benefit you, your family and children in the future — that’s something everyone can wrap their arms around,” Jugovich said.

He continued by saying programs that reach young families help counteract the millions of dollars the county spends annually on out-of-home placement costs, including roughly $18 million this year. Helping families and driving down out-of-home placement costs have been themes throughout the year for the board.

“We appreciate what you’re doing,” Jugovich added. “There are no guarantees in life. But when we invest in families and children we see that it pays dividends later on.”

Commissioner Ashley Grimm, representing western Duluth, praised the YWCA investment as “incredible work,” and called it “housing we know we desperately need.”

Repairs to the structure are plenty, including a new roof to replace one that leaks and creates puddles in the building.

Valued at $380,900, the building was purchased by the YWCA in 2002 and it has not had any large updates since, Nelson-Preble told the board.

In addition to a roof, repairs will include new windows, some flooring, and new heating and air conditioning systems, including a new boiler.

Nelson recommended the YWCA return to the city of Duluth to make a larger request, reasoning that both county and city received north of $50 million to distribute in pandemic relief through American Rescue Plan Act funding.

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“Their participation at least gives me some enthusiasm,” Nelson said. “But you should be asking the city of Duluth for another $50,000 … to make those apartments that much better.”

Commissioner Frank Jewell spoke about a previous effort to save the YWCA building and make it a solution for housing and child care.

" I could not be more supportive of the work the YWCA has done for this," the central Duluth commissioner said.

The board expects to give final approval of the spending at its meeting June 28 at Culver Town Hall in Brookston.

Brady Slater is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune.
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