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Guest Column: Eager to do more for housing in Albert Lea

Guest Column by Jeanne Leick

Jeanne Leick

 

I attended a conference by Minnesota Housing recently, during which a staff member for the agency provided me her business card. “Housing is the foundation for success,” is written on it.

I thought, “This is exactly why I got into this field.”

I’m coming up on six months in Albert Lea as the executive director of the Albert Lea Housing and Redevelopment Authority. I am thrilled to be leading an organization whose mission is to provide safe, decent and affordable housing that fosters both economic and social diversity. Indeed, after reviewing ALEDA’s strategic plan, reading the city’s housing study and engaging in conversations with the community, we know that housing will be the foundation for that success. I am excited about that challenge.

For those who don’t know, the HRA is more than just the tallest building in Albert Lea. The HRA is an organization that administers federal funding to solve a local housing issue. We provide low-income housing to families in Freeborn County by making use of two programs, public housing and housing choice voucher program. The former is housing owned and managed by the agency, 126 units at Shady Oaks (the high rise) and 50 scattered sites. Everyone in public housing is required to pay at least 30% of their adjusted monthly income for rent, 10% of their unadjusted monthly income or $50 minimum rent, whichever is greater. They also must complete eight hours of community service each month if they are not elderly or working 30 hours a week. 

The voucher program provides rental assistance to 155 families who find housing through partnerships that landlords create with the HRA. In the HCV program families are required to pay at least 30% of their adjusted monthly income for rent, 10% of their unadjusted monthly income or $50 minimum rent, whichever is greater, just as it is in the public housing program. The program has checks for both the tenant and landlord. The housing available through the program has to meet standards. Likewise, landlords have to conduct a background check and collect rent and security deposits just like anyone else on the private market. The HRA sends a portion of the rent to the landlord each month. During the time I’ve been here, we have been able to adjust this program so that more housing is available to the people who use it and more attractive to those who want to make Albert Lea their home.

I have 17 years of my career in housing. I am eager to share what I’ve learned with the staff at the county, city and ALEDA, as not only do I hear that we need more housing for workforce, but we also need to repair our existing housing stock and build more new homes. I am working with staff from these agencies to identify programs that are the right fit for our community. I feel a camaraderie among the team and am grateful to know that silos have been broken down.

On a personal note, I knew that Albert Lea was the right fit for me. My outdoorsy husband and I have already hiked, biked and fished in Albert Lea. As the weather begins to crack, we look more and more forward to our first spring.

Jeanne Leick is the executive director of the Albert Lea Housing and Redevelopment Authority.