Candidates for three Olmsted County Board of Commissioners seats agree the county needs to focus on its COVID-19 housing response.
In the three-way District 5 race, the two challengers say they want to make sure the $3.5 million generated annually through the county’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority levy continues to support the efforts, which have included the creation of new transitional housing and rental assistance.
“What I would like to see is an extension and prioritization of those efforts that extends through the pandemic as a means of making sure those who have fallen on hard times as a result of job loss are able to stay on their feet until they are able to find employment and sort of regain their own economic footing,” Brian Morgan said when asked about priorities for the levy funds.
He added that the housing efforts can provide a safety net and lift people most in need.
- Olmsted County District 1 candidates discuss HRA levy priorities
- Olmsted County District 5 candidates discuss HRA levy priorities
- Olmsted County District 7 candidates discuss HRA levy priorities
Fellow District 5 challenger Regina Mustafa said she'd like to find ways to do more with the funds to ensure the county’s most vulnerable residents have support.
“I would like to see how the tax levy could go toward increasing those efforts, and making sure … the funds are distributed with a priority toward applicants who are in most need of the funds,” she said. “That means households perhaps with somebody with a disability or a single-parent or guardian household.”
District 5 incumbent Jim Bier said county commissioners have put the HRA on the right track for helping people by establishing priorities for housing creation and rehabilitation, as well as homelessness prevention, while also being flexible in its response to COVID-19.
He said the strategy has helped leverage an added $26 million in support and is working toward new housing options for people earning less than 30 percent of the area’s median income.
“These are hard-working people who do not earn enough to afford even a low-priced market apartment in Rochester,” he said, adding he believes the county has a solid plan for the future.
Incumbent Mark Thein agreed that the county is on the right track by focusing on households earning less than 30 percent of the area median income, which he said puts the focus on people earning about $10 an hour or less.
“I’m determined to meet our goal of helping people who make 30 percent of AMI or less, and trying to keep them from becoming homeless and trying to keep them working and able to provide for their families,” he said.
His challenger, Wale Elegbede, also said plans for the levy must focus on the county’s lowest-income residents but added that commissioners must make sure the efforts don’t restrict the ability to help the most vulnerable residents, including the elderly, people with disabilities and others facing homelessness.
“We’re trying to get people the support they need,” he said. “That way they can get back on their feet. I think when we do that, that helps our economy. That also helps us from a health disparity issue.”
In the race for the seat serving the center of Rochester, both candidates supportexisting efforts, but propose a slightly different approach when it comes to addressing senior housing.
Incumbent Stephanie Podulke, who advocated for maximum HRA levy funding starting in 2018, said the next long-term focus should be on rehabilitation of existing homes occupied by low-income elderly residents.
“Allowing people to avoid nursing homes and age in place with safety and dignity is my choice for our next intense efforts,” she said.
Her challenger, Robert “Bucky” Beeman, said he’d like to see the county work to develop more options for aging residents, which could encourage seniors to move and put their homes on the market for first-time home buyers and young families.
The commercial real estate agent said he believes encouraging home purchases is a way to create strong community foundations.
“I think we need to help those seniors get into long-term stable places to live that are affordable,” he said. “So, I do think that senior housing that is affordable is something the county needs to sow into.”
Full videos of the candidates’ responses to the question “What should the county’s priority be for spending the levy funds?” are available on the Post Bulletin website at /www.postbulletin.com/tags/ELECTION_2020 .