Alexandria is getting creative about its housing options, with funding help from the city

Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County is bringing 42 affordable homes to an innovative new subdivision in town, thanks to TIF funding from the city of Alexandria.

When a problem needs solving in Alexandria, Minnesota, folks don’t generally sit around long wondering what to do. They jump in to solve it.

So when the local Habitat for Humanity team saw a growing need for affordable homes in the area, they committed to building even more homes and serving more people in the Douglas County area. Soon they found a large plot of land on the northeast side of town, purchased it, and made plans to build an entire subdivision there.

They knew it was a huge opportunity to provide more affordable housing in the area.

It’s a massive undertaking.

Their vision is to build 42 Habitat for Humanity homes over the course of 10 years. The project is larger and more ambitious than any the organization has ever done in Douglas County, and it’s required a series of approvals from the city.

It’s also required a significant amount of funding.

So the Habitat team reached out to Nicole Fernholz from the Alexandria Area Economic Development Commission (AAECD) for ideas on how to fund the project. Over the course of a few months, Nicole walked them through the process of applying for tax increment financing (TIF) from the city of Alexandria.

She also helped them present the TIF proposal to the city council and mayor.

It wasn’t a sure thing.

“Honestly,” says Nicole, “I didn’t know what the city would do. They haven’t had a lot of home-ownership TIF districts in the past. They’ve usually approved economic TIF districts, which are typically for manufacturing.”

But in November, thanks to a strong presentation from the AAEDC and a well-timed review of the 2023 Alexandria Housing study (which just happened to be scheduled in the same meeting), the city unanimously approved the request. Nicole called it “a significant win”.

“We’re grateful for the support of our mission from the community. This will be the first affordable housing development in Alexandria since 2002,” says Lori Anderson, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County. “We’re excited to help the community grow while increasing the number of families we serve.”

“It will be so great to watch these houses get developed—and it will be so helpful to our employers who need great housing for their workforce. It’s a win-win all around.”

Nicole Fernholz, Executive Director of the AAEDC

Building a great community within a great community

Soon Alexandrians will see work underway at the new Summer Meadows subdivision, just off Scenic Heights Road. The goal is for the first families to start moving in by spring of 2025.

“We’re excited,” says Heather Smith-Ahrens, director of operations. “This site really met all the criteria we had for a large-scale development, and then some. Part of the neighborhood will have a wetland preserve in their backyards, and the rest will have the city park. There’s also an elementary school nearby.”

“When families partner with Habitat for Humanity, they start down a new path—one with far fewer barriers to a better, healthier, more financially stable life. The impact of home is multi-generational.”

Lori Anderson, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Douglas County

TIF funding made it possible

Thanks to the TIF funding, work will begin in spring 2024 on the project’s infrastructure. Habitat is laying all the groundwork for the entire ten-year project up front.

“We’re paying for the city street, water, sewer, sidewalks, and infrastructure,” says Lori, “including over 100 boulevard trees. Our TIF partnership with the city will help recoup the cost of the infrastructure, and then our fundraising can continue to focus on the building of affordable homes.”

The team at Habitat for Humanity envisions a thriving community filled with the kind of people who help make Alexandria a special place to live, including people who work in the local schools, hospitals, restaurants, and more.

“This is a great opportunity,” says Heather. “And by having a partnership with the city, we’ll be able to move forward with our goal of building four to five homes a year and perhaps even accelerate that as the need continues.”

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