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Housing crisis: government help for older homes seen as solution

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Mike Moen

(Minnesota News Connection) As the housing market navigates a sea of obstacles, community-level organizations in Minnesota are urging governments to take a closer look at their strategies for supporting older neighborhoods, and said deteriorating homes shouldn't be overlooked.

Construction of new homes continues to lag, in part because of supply-chain issues, and groups such as NeighborWorks Home Partners say there's another problem: plenty of neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as surrounding suburbs, have an aging stock.

Beth Hyser, chief program officer for the group, said the scale of funds set aside for things like home improvement loans has not kept up with demand.

"We're seeing more and more folks trying to age in their homes," Hyser observed. "But because of a variety of financial situations have not been able to keep up with maintenance."

She added there are many first-time homebuyers who cannot afford to take on debt for necessary repairs. Community partners worry it will lead to more issues like gentrification, with private investors buying up properties.

Hyser recommended state and local governments do all they can to access funds through the federal HOME program, noting it offers flexibility in buying or rehabbing affordable housing.

Jim Erchul, executive director of Dayton's Bluff Neighborhood Housing Services, said they see a lot of older residents staying in homes with maintenance needs piling up. He explained it prevents them from being able to sell. His group can help facilitate options, but there are barriers.

"The state has a good, deferred loan program for extremely low-income folks, but it's rather burdensome to administer," Erchul noted.

Erchul pointed out a client and a community organization could spend a lot of time seeking approval, only to see it fall through. He suggested creating more efficiencies and expanding eligibility for the program, while still allowing for accountability, could go a long way in seeing their aging housing stock get the attention it needs.

Both groups say full renovation costs have skyrocketed, and smaller investments over time can prevent a collection of neighborhood homes needing major overhauls at once.