Olmsted County entered a new era Tuesday in its efforts to curb an affordable housing crisis in the community.
With a resolution unanimously approved Tuesday, the Olmsted County Board of Commissioners assumed new duties as the Olmsted County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, and the county board also expressed its intent to levy a new property tax in 2016 to support housing efforts.
"I see it as a dawning of a new era for the county board. It's a major decision," said county board chairman Paul Wilson.
Legislation approved in the Minnesota Legislature's special session earlier this month gave the authority for the county board to replace the members of the current seven-member housing and redevelopment authority.
To support the activities of the housing authority and address needs in the community, the county board intends to levy a property tax of no more than 0.0185 percent beginning in 2016.
The only exempted area of the county will be properties within the city limits of Stewartville, where a housing and redevelopment authority has existed since 1978. Even though the Stewartville authority does not levy a tax on residents, the county must seek permission to levy there because of overlapping authorities.
With its actions Tuesday, Olmsted County joined in a public-private partnership that aims to secure more than 2,000 units of affordable housing in the county in the next six years.
The county has an affordable housing crisis, according to data provided last year by Maxfield Research Inc. and cited by a Greater Minnesota Housing Fund representative at Tuesday's county board meeting.
"Greater Minnesota Housing Fund is completing a housing impact plan," said John Errigo, a Greater Minnesota Housing Fund spokesman. "It summarizes the key findings of the Maxfield research work and lays out goals, strategies and the funding that will be needed to develop over 2,000 affordable homes in Olmsted County by 2020."
The proposed plan envisions Olmsted County and its reorganized housing and redevelopment authority partnering with Rochester Area Foundation and Mayo Clinic to build 1,500 new units of affordable housing and preserve 500 existing homes for affordable housing.
Olmsted County is the first to give its commitment for funding as envisioned in the public-private partnership plan: about $12.7 million that would come from the housing levy over six years.
"We are being asked to lead, and hopefully everybody else will follow," Commissioner Ken Brown said.
The plan was developed through shared planning sessions involving the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, the Olmsted County Community Services Department, private developers, builders and real estate professionals.
Without firm commitments from other agencies, the plan is not yet finalized, said Paul Fleissner, director of community services. The full content of the plan should become public relatively soon, he said.
A great deal of planning has taken place to get the county and its partners to this point, but its actions Tuesday were really a first step in addressing housing concerns in the county, Fleissner added.
"This whole thing shows incredible leadership on behalf of the (county) board," Fleissner said.