HRA could collect taxes for rural projects

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 14, 2002

County officials agreed to investigate ways to use the Housing Redevelopment Authority to encourage housing projects outside Albert Lea during a workshop meeting Tuesday.

Though it exists, the county HRA has no visible housing activities. No housing units were built or managed under the HRA authority. It has only functioned occasionally as a bonding authority to generate funds for development projects, such as the EXOL ethanol plant near Glenville.

&uot;It has been like a spare tire,&uot; said County Administrator Ron Gabrielsen. &uot;That is because there were no needs.&uot;

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But, the need may be out there.

A group that plans to build an 18-unit senior housing complex in Glenville believes that many seniors in the area do not want to move out of the community where they live, but that affordable senior housing does not exist to allow them to stay.

The project costs $1.8 million. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has already set aside loan funds, but the agency requires a market survey before giving the loan. It will cost $5,400.

&uot;This is the type of project that can be done with a little help from the HRA,&uot; Kermitt Mahn, retiring Austin HRA Director, told the commissioners. He also suggested that the county can spend around $25,000 to conduct a county-wide needs survey for future applications for federal and state grants.

The HRA can impose property taxes. In Austin’s case, according to Mahn, the tax generates more than $100,000 annually that is used as seed money to initiate projects. Mahn said the county should consider utilizing this tax capacity.

Mahn also recommended the county should have a full-time position to administrate the HRA. &uot;The grants are there. But the process is very complicated and needs a lot of time and knowledge. You need somebody to stitch all that,&uot; he said.

Another proposal by Mahn was the pursuit of joint ventures with other HRAs.

Instead of starting from zero, the county HRA can cooperate with Albert Lea’s HRA, which has accumulated knowledge and experience, and utilize those resources. &uot;It will bring more efficiency and economy of scale,&uot; he said.

The Mower County HRA has been successful in sharing resources with Austin and has built senior housing facilities in Adams, Rose Creek, Lyle and Brownsdale, according to Mahn.

Gabrielsen promised that the county would survey how the HRAs are functioning in other counties and bring the subject to the table for the next joint city-county meeting in September.