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First Homes moves 'pretty steadily' toward goal

Officials show off early successes during tour

By Jeffrey Pieters

jpieters@postbulletin.com

On the brink of reaching a $12.75 million fund-raising goal, First Homes leaders took time Thursday to thank supporters and show them a host of area projects.

More than 40 people toured housing sites in Pine Island and Rochester that have been built, bought or fixed up using money and expertise contributed by First Homes.

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The organization is a collaboration of groups in the public and private sectors working to increase the local supply of starter homes by 875 over a five-year period. Two years into the program, it is nearly halfway to that goal. Properties are in Rochester and nine other area communities.

Sean Allen, First Homes' executive director, called Thursday's event "a celebration that we're on track and moving forward to our goal pretty steadily."

Tour riders saw Wazuweeta Woods, a 57-unit housing project under construction in Pine Island; Rose Harbor, a 150-unit housing development in southeast Rochester that includes 33 subsidized homes; and a house in southwest Rochester that had been rehabilitated and sold to a low-income family at a reduced price. That sale closed Thursday.

Several properties, including the latter home, are part of a community land trust program intended to hold housing prices at an affordable level. In the program, First Homes takes ownership of the land and first option to buy the house when the owner sells it. It limits the amount of a profit an owner can make on the house, enabling First Homes to keep the asking price low for the next buyer. The program is a growing piece of First Homes' business.

And, Allen said, it is an example of the sort of idea that has earned First Homes a reputation as an innovative and credible nonprofit. Some of its programs are being emulated elsewhere in the state.

"I think we should be proud of that," Allen said. "It's been important to establish that credibility."

First Homes works in cooperation with other government and nonprofit groups, such as Rochester Area Habitat for Humanity, Three Rivers Community Action and the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency.

Before long, Allen said, First Homes will finish raising the $230,000 it needs to meet its fund-raising goal. That, along with a $1 million matching grant from Mayo Foundation, will push the organization's fund total to $13.5 million.

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Fund-raising doesn't stop there, Allen said.

"The bottom line is we're going to spend it on housing," he said. "So if we go over our goal, that'd be great."

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