Housing is a hot topic for Willmar, and the job of a new mayor’s task force – West Central Tribune.

WILLMAR — Housing has risen to the top as an issue of concern for the city of Willmar and for Kandiyohi County as whole.

The Willmar City Council at the May 2 meeting approved the formation of a Mayor’s Housing Task Force.

“I have received numerous comments over the last year and a half that single-family housing in Willmar is basically nonexistent,” Calvin told the City Council, noting that only seven single-family homes were built in Willmar in 2021. “We’ve. done a good job with multi-family housing, so a number of people have contacted me that they would like to see a task force put together.”

Calvin said it would work in collaboration with the housing efforts by the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission and Vision 2040, the grassroots nonprofit initiative that works in various areas to support community projects.

During the EDC Joint Powers Board meeting April 28, Mayor Calvin informed the board of his intent to form the task force.

The topic also came up during EDC Executive Director Aaron Backman’s presentation of a draft of the EDC’s strategic plan, which outlines the goals and objectives of the EDC for 2022.

Throughout the plan, the availability of diverse and affordable housing options was shown to be an issue on which to focus, along with several other key priorities for 2022-23.

Along with Calvin and council members Michael O’Brien, Julie Asmus and Justin Ask, other task force members are expected to be general contractors, business leaders, real estate professionals and private citizens, as well as representatives of Vision 2040, the Willmar Area Community. Foundation and United Community Action Partnership.

About 15 to 16 people will make up the task force, which is expected to meet for approximately three months or a shorter period. The task force will then present its recommendations to the city, Vision 2040 and the EDC, according to Calvin.

Housing discussed at EDC meeting

“We have issues with housing, people not being able to find it. I think we have a grand total — I was looking for the housing report for March that came out a week or two ago — we have a grand total of 19 homes for sale in the city of Willmar, and 30-some for the whole county. of 44,000 people,” Backman told the EDC’s Joint Powers Board at its meeting. “How are we going to recruit professionals, let alone anybody, if we don’t have sufficient housing? It’s going to bite us if we don’t try to be aggressive as we can, so at the EDC, I think we are as engaged as possible.”

Kandiyohi County Commissioner Steven Gardner, also a member of the EDC Joint Powers Board, agreed that housing is an issue, not just in the city of Willmar, but throughout the county.

“Obviously, with half the population of the county living in the city of Willmar, which I represent in part, certainly that is important, but just as important is being able to bring up all areas of the county. And, I’m really appreciative that that’s being recognized within this initiative,” he said.

The goal of the EDC regarding the housing issue is developing alternative housing options to increase the availability of affordable workforce housing stock county-wide, according to the preliminary strategic plan.

The EDC committee tasked with focusing on housing issues is Business Retention and Expansion/Recruitment, with key partners including Vision 2040, the Kandiyohi County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, local council representatives, and local real estate agents/developers, according to Backman.

One strategic objective of the housing committee includes developing new housing concepts by reimagining housing, and exploring alternative and affordable housing options.

Another objective is to evaluate and improve zoning requirements to allow expanded opportunities, such as allowing accessory dwelling units, smaller lot sizes, or establishing a tiny home subdivision.

Calvin noted that development should also be encouraged in the smaller towns surrounding Willmar, including Sunburg, Raymond, Lake Lillian, and Prinsburg.

“I can’t help but believe that we are still hundreds, if not 500-plus, housing units short,” he said. “I know someone that’s been looking for a house for nine months in Willmar. They’ve put numerous bids on houses and can’t find housing. Basically, they have to find housing by the end of next month, otherwise they are out.”

He told the EDC Joint Powers Board that the city is looking at four areas to develop new residential subdivisions.

Backman told the EDC Joint Powers Board that Redwood Falls just approved a $13.7 million project to create a new subdivision, and that is just for the roads, water and sewer on a 325-acre site, which will include some commercial lots and the subdivision.

“That’s the step they are taking, because they are saying, ‘Hey, we have to have more housing, what do we do?’ That’s a big step, a big step. And they still might have to do tax increment funding for the housing,” Backman said. “That’s a cost to the city of close to half a million dollars a year just for that.”

“But if you don’t take those steps, it doesn’t happen,” Calvin added.

There are continued contacts between EDC and people interested in housing projects, including projects on Lakeland Drive and Willmar Avenue, Backman told the EDC Joint Powers Board.

The Lakeland Drive project would be 13.9 acres with up to 200 units, Backman added. “So, we’ve got interest, we’ve got developers, but I can’t really announce it. They are still going through the process,” he said.

The Lakeland Drive project would be multi-family rental units, and the Willmar Avenue project would include smaller housing units like pods or twin homes.

He noted there has been another project that fell through due to high bids and the cost of the material.

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