Budget challenges await first, council says

The city of Burnsville may someday offer its homeowners a direct lending program for fix-ups and improvements — just not anytime too soon.

A lending program is the most notable recommendation for preserving single-family housing stock to emerge recently from the city’s Economic Development Commission. Preserving and improving housing is one of the goals of Burnsville’s Economic Development and Redevelopment Strategic Plan, approved in 2018.

A lending program would likely involve city money and outside capitalization, as well as a third party to administer it.

But with the coronavirus continuing to pose budget challenges, now isn’t the time to get into it, City Council members said at a work session Tuesday.

“For me right now, the ’22 budget is of paramount importance,” Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said.

Instead, city staff will take a long view of the housing recommendations, including intermediate steps such as helping homeowners find contractors, better navigate the permitting process and get energy audits.

The staff can “softly roll out pieces of this over the next year,” Community Development Director Jenni Faulkner said, noting that the city has already budgeted some money for marketing the availability of $100 energy audits and helping some residents pay for them.

Burnsville already provides some funding for housing through its share of federal Community Development Block Grant funding, but it’s “not a big pot,” Mayor Elizabeth Kautz said. The funds are targeted to low- and moderate-income households.

“I’m a big fan of whatever we can do to help our residents maintain this city and keep it looking good,” Council Member Dan Gustafson said, adding that some senior citizens on fixed incomes struggle to maintain their homes.

Economic Development Commission member Al Anderson suggested that proceeds from city land sales could be used to help fund a direct lending program. He mentioned the recent sale of land at Southcross Drive and Portland Avenue that had been bought for a fire station. Instead, the city chose another site for replacement of Fire Station 1.

Any discussion of “major funding” should wait for “a year from now,” Council Member Dan Kealey said.

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