senior housing

A rendering of the 32-unit affordable senior housing building proposed through the Central Minnesota Housing Partnership to be built in North Branch off of Cherokee Avenue and 400th Street. Photo submitted

Plans for a new senior housing complex in the city of North Branch are moving forward.

During the North Branch City Council meeting April 14, Community Development Director Carla Vita talked about Central Minnesota Housing Partnership’s interest in constructing a senior housing building in the city. She said for years, conversations have taken place about the need for more affordable senior housing in the city.

Vita explained that during one of her first days on the job, Council Member Kathy Bloomquist indicated a desire to see a senior housing project come forward.

“Well, this is kind of an exciting night,” Vita said. “I think a lot of you have been waiting for this project for a long time.”

Vita explained Central Minnesota Housing Partnership is proposing to build 32 units of affordable senior housing in the city.

“We have a really huge need for affordable housing for older adults,” Vita said. Vita indicated older adults, per the law, are individuals 55 and older, and affordability is based off of an individual’s Social Security check or the interest off their investments.

The location for the senior housing building is planned for the southeast corner of Cherokee Avenue and 400th Street; just east of Cherokee Place, an affordable housing project for families is currently under construction. The property Central Minnesota Housing Partnership is considering for the new senior housing building is approximately 3.8 acres in size.

Following discussion, the council approved a motion to support the request for fee reduction and assessment waivers. The motion also directed Mayor Jim Swenson to write a letter on behalf of the City Council supporting the project.

Vita explained the roads that abut the property (400th and Cherokee) are already constructed with water and sewer pipes, thus no new roads or public infrastructure will need to be constructed and maintained. She said the location is also selling more property that the Economic Development Authority owns and brings more property onto the city’s tax rolls (this project will not be asking for any other assistance other than for fee reductions).

“This would be money on our tax rolls,” Vita said. “And I just want to make sure the citizens hear that, because we’ve had some projects, the mayor and I talked about it earlier today, who’ve wanted a gazillion years of taxes waived. This is going to be taxes on our tax rolls. It’s not going to be waived, and I want to make sure that our citizens hear that a second time, because I’ve had some questions on that.”

Vita explained Central Minnesota Housing Partnership is applying for funding from Minnesota Housing, and the city must show, per the requirements of Minnesota Housing, a large commitment toward the project.

“The city staff team put together a plan that we believe would have the support of North Branch Water & Light, the EDA and City Council, as well as the community. We presented the plan to CMHP and they supported the request,” Vita said. “The analysis waives the assessments fully and reduces the other fees by 75% for just under $523,000 in contributions.”

Vita noted the EDA met earlier that evening and approved the purchase agreement for the project and is very supportive of the project.

The project will include one-bedroom apartments with a den. The housing will have attached parking that city staff believe is important as many older adults fear falling and Minnesota winter conditions are ripe for falls. The building will also have a community room that will allow for a variety of services for those living within the building.

“What I like about this, from my perspective, is we’re not building any new roads we have to maintain, the pipes are already in,” Vita said. “This is already in our infrastructure, which is kind of nice, because you don’t have to worry about additional roads for our public works department to plow or to maintain, so that is a really good benefit.”

Swenson voiced his excitement for the project.

“It will be hooked up to the new water, the 20-inch line that’s there, so we don’t have to bring anything else in,” Swenson said. “It’s all plus-plus, everything on this project.”

In total, Central Minnesota Housing Partnership will be paying $38,000 for the land, $14,400 in park dedication fees, $18,229 in water access charges, $16,472 in sewer access charges, $37,464 in trunk water charges and $20,704 in trunk sewer charges. In total, the proposed “public” contribution toward the project is $522,958.

Council Member Brian Voss questioned the waiving of $201,149 in assessments that will most likely be deferred onto other parcels, and the 75% discount the city is giving Central Minnesota Housing Partnership on water and sewer access charges, and the trunk water and trunk sewer charge.

Vita explained she and City Administrator Renae Fry feel they are presenting the best and most fair possible scenario for all parties involved and would allow Central Minnesota Housing Partnership to obtain as many “points” as possible when submitting its application for funding through Minnesota Housing. She said Central Minnesota Housing Partnership needed to have a public contribution of over $500,000 to hopefully get the maximum number of “points” possible through Minnesota Housing.

“If we don’t do it, the project’s not going to happen. If we don’t give them discounts, Minnesota Housing is just not going to do it, and that’s the truth,” Vita said. “We could have discounted it all the way to the bottom, but we didn’t feel that you would want that as a council or the North Branch Water and Light would be amenable too.”

Fry said a huge benefit to the city is the construction of a multi-million-dollar building that will be added to the city’s tax roll.

“They still will be paying $145,000 total between land costs and other trunk, so we will have that investment in our community, where the land by itself right now is not paying us a dime. They will be building a multi-million-dollar building; they will be paying property taxes on a multi-million-dollar property,” Fry said. “Ultimately the city is getting a revenue-producing property, and I think our cost is maybe waiving or giving up the opportunity to collect trunk. But as Ms. Vita suggested, getting nothing versus getting something, maybe we are all a little bit better ahead.”

Bloomquist was in full support of the project.

“I just want to reiterate that how necessary this is,” Bloomquist said. “I think this is going to be very, very good for the community and it will fill rapidly because people will finally be able to age in place based on their income.”

Council Member Kelly Neider said she’s heard conversations over the past six years through her work at the senior center about the need for more senior housing.

“The seniors are very thrilled that the city of North Branch is investing into our aging community and I’m very proud to be a part of it. So thanks for all your hard work that you guys have to done to get this moving forward,” Neider said. “And I hope we can put our words into action and make a place, as Council Member Bloomquist said, that our seniors can age in place right here in North Branch. Because we are one of those communities where we have generations here.”

Swenson said he’s been a part of a lot of discussions involving senior housing.

“The exciting thing about this is we’ve had 275 acres of land and we’d sold 6 acres of it. And we’re starting to sell some land and get people on the tax system for us, and there’s no rentals for anybody in Chisago County or especially North Branch. And this has been one of the huge, huge things. We have a lot people that would like to have a place to live, just like Council Member Neider just said, that they don’t have to worry about shoveling snow or so forth. She’s already discussed maybe opening up a place for them to exercise. The bus will pick them up to take them places,” Swenson said. “I think it’s such a positive thing for our community. I’d be ashamed to not go forward getting this. Because it’s something we very, very badly need. And it looks beautiful. ... Everything is really positive for them. There are garages for them to keep their vehicles in and I just can’t be more enthusiastic than I am about this. ... We’ve had 275 acres just sitting there and not getting anything off of it. If we can get somebody on the tax system right away, they’re hooking up to city sewer and water. Every bit of that is going to help in the long run down the road. I’m very supportive of this project.”

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