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Hoping to help with housing solutions; report highlights Bemidji in push for state aid to low-income housing

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Zach Kayser

BEMIDJI — For Lacey Tverstol, low-income housing resident and current nursing student, it was “miracle” when the former homeless, single mother was able to find a spot at Conifer Estates in Bemidji right away.

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“It’s a good feeling, having a home,” she said Thursday. “Having this place... it’s such a relief that I can still go to school and raise (my daughter) and still be able to afford a place like this.”

The odds are stacked against Tverstol and those like her to the point of her story almost being a literal miracle. The waiting list to get into low-income housing at Conifer Estates is 95 names long, and there are similar availability problems across Minnesota.

Tverstol was speaking at a press conference at Conifer in order to put a human face on a report released this week by advocacy group MN2020 and the Minnesota Housing Partnership on how Minnesota is still grappling with the effects of the 2008 housing crisis. Those effects have left a stain across the state: Lee Egerstrom, one of the report’s authors, said he’s heard stories of people forced to spend the night on buses in the Twin Cities and in ice houses in the northland.

The problem hurts Bemidji specifically, too. A section of the report that covers Bemidji said monthly rent in the city must be about $536 a month to count as “affordable,” but actual median rent paid is closer to $661: more than Hibbing, more than Grand Rapids and more than Brainerd. More than 42 percent of households in Bemidji are “cost-burdened,” meaning they’re paying more than 35 percent of their household income toward housing, said Aaron Chirpich with the Headwaters Regional Development Commission.

The report calls for the Legislature to approve a $100 million piece of this year’s bonding bill to go toward building more low-income housing. The measure is supported by Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL- St. Paul, who chairs the Capital Investment Committee in charge of the House’s bonding bill. Hausman has said the $100 million would build or rehabilitate about 5,000 housing units. Although the measure has been approved by Hausman’s committee in the House, the equivalent Senate committee has yet to release their list of preferred bonding projects.

The Bemidji press conference’s goal of drawing attention to the homeless issue already appeared to be working Thursday afternoon. The Conifer Estates event prompted a press release from the office of Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL Grand-Rapids, who voiced his support for including low-income housing dollars in the bonding bill.

“I hope (the bill) will include significant money for housing bonds, which will help reduce chronic homelessness and help communities like Bemidji recover from foreclosure,” he said in the release.

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