When it comes to housing in Rice County, local leaders agree: it’s neither affordable nor available.
Members of U.S. Sen. Tina Smith’s staff headed to Faribault on July 30th as part of a statewide listening tour on the topic of affordable housing. It’s a widespread problem across the state — and it’s particularly serious in Rice County, where a significant portion of renters spend more than half their monthly income on housing.
A major driver of these issues is the mismatch between market prices and income. Faribault has the third-most expensive rental market in the state (after the metro area and Rochester), but is ranked lower for income, according to Bree Maki, Smith’s southern Minnesota outreach director.
Natalia Marchan, Rice County Growing Up Healthy coordinator, recalled her own struggle five years ago to find an apartment as a single woman. To pay her $600 rent, she had to work three jobs, she said.
For families with children, it can be even more difficult. Rice County has six times the state average of households with more than 10 people, according to Joy Watson, Rice County Housing director. Market rates for a four- to five-bedroom rental house can reach $1,600 a month, which is out of reach for many low-income families.
“The bigger the family, the less selection they have and the less quality there is in housing stock. It really creates a hardship for a lot of our families,” said Watson.
And even when families can afford what’s on the market, they still have to contend with limited availability. Several attendees reported seeing homes go up for sale — or selling their own homes — and receiving several offers above asking price within 24 hours.
Jenny Larson, executive director of Three Rivers Community Action, said she had heard from families who want to seek less expensive housing but are reluctant to move their children out of the school district, especially in Northfield. Even higher-earning families may have no choice, she said.
“If somebody who is making $80,000 can’t live in Northfield, then what is someone who makes $20,000 supposed to do?” asked Larson.
Some low-income families are eligible to seek housing vouchers through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. People may wait years for approval — and then discover that some landlords won’t accept the vouchers due to the stigma associated with public assistance programs and the perception that these renters will cause more problems than others. Attendees also reported landlords being reluctant to rent to voucher holders due to the program’s inspection requirements, though these requirements call for basic health and safety standards (such as working smoke detectors).
For places that do accept public assistance, like Prairiewood Townhomes of Faribault, the waiting list can be 200 people long.
Dayna Norvold, executive director of Rice County Habitat for Humanity, said it’s a challenge to find households that qualify for her programs, since many families in need either don’t have enough income to sustain a mortgage long-term, or financial disorganization disqualifies them. Norvold suggested financial education programs for middle and high school students to prepare students for potential future home ownership.
“I think we need some more education way far ahead, but we’ve also got to do some things at a local level — but support it federally — to get people out of the financial mess,” said Norvold.
Participants also discussed the side effects of a lack of available housing. It prevents businesses from expanding, since many workers don’t want long commutes or lack transportation altogether. If families leave the area, school districts may lose funding due to decreased enrollment. People facing domestic violence may stay in unsafe situations because they can’t afford to move out.
These concerns echoed what Smith’s staffers had heard across the area — Rice County isn’t alone in these struggles, they said. Participants called for collaboration between city, state and the federal government, along with local nonprofits, shelters and landlords, to seek solutions.
“These are serious and complicated issues that keep people from living where they want to,” said Larson.
Connecting with neighbors, getting to know new residents, and promoting community pride can happen any day, but Night to Unite makes it more convenient than ever.
Night to Unite is a national movement that promotes community togetherness with food, games and other activities. This year’s Night to Unite, organized by Faribault Community Services Officer Doug Delesha, is Tuesday, Aug. 6.
In the midst of block parties residents independently organize, Faribault Main Street teams up with Buckham West, the Faribault Community Center and the Buckham Memorial Library from 5 to 7:30 p.m. to present an open celebration for the entire community.
Faribault Main Street Coordinator Kelly Nygaard said the Faribault Diversity Coalition also became a partner in making the event possible.
“All three of these entities and the Diversity Coalition do tremendous things for our community,” said Nygaard. “It benefits everyone, and we hope people will come down and enjoy this evening.”
The celebration outside the Buckham Center includes a dunk tank and children’s games as well as bottled water, kosher hot dogs and sambusas, fried dough with a savory filling. Guests might get a henna tattoo, listen to live music by the Mike Hildebrandt Band and view a number of city vehicles. All of this is available at no cost.
Although Buckham Center entities collaborate for Night to Unite, Nygaard said each facility brings its own unique touch to the event to make it appropriate and enjoyable for all ages. The Buckham Memorial Library’s youth service librarian developed ideas to engage the event’s youngest attendees, Parks and Rec Director Paul Peanasky provides some of the youth games and the dunk tank, and Buckham West invited the band to play.
Since Night to Unite is traditionally a time for community members to become better acquainted with city officials like police officers, fire fighters and elected officials, the Buckham Center also invited Faribault City Council members to attend. Many of the officials will travel to the different parties being hosted throughout the city.
“Additionally there will be a police dog present with an officer accompanying the dog,” said Nygaard. “[Night to Unite] is a great way to build community and showcase all the benefits of Faribault.”
The Faribault Economic Development Authority has committed to provide a key loan to a rapidly growing hometown business and is considering a plan that could bring a growing business to downtown Faribault.
Faribault’s Living Greens Farm requested an $11,000 loan from the EDA to expand the size of the water line from the property line to within five feet of Living Greens Farm’s main building on 30th St. NW from the current 1.25 inches to 4 inches. Living Greens Farm will invest in an upgraded water meter and internal building improvements to accommodate increased water flow.
The EDA approved the request at its July 18 meeting.
In order to grow fresh greens year round, Living Green Farms uses cutting edge technology. The company’s lettuce and herbs are suspended vertically and the exposed roots sprayed with a nutrient-rich solution, in a process known as aeroponics. This process dramatically reduces the amount of land and water needed for plant growth, enables faster plant growth by increasing the amount of oxygen flow to the roots, and significantly reducing the risk of plant disease.
At its Faribault facility, Living Greens Farm grows and processes its greens, streamlining the production process but also increasing the demand for water at the facility. The facility’s lack of adequate water supply already prevents Living Greens Farm from being able to undertake necessary watering and cleaning processes in an efficient, simultaneous manner. With the company in the midst of a large expansion that it expects to more than triple its output, expansion of water supply became a clear necessity.
“The EDA is excited to continue to be part of Living Green Farms growth in Faribault,” said Faribault Community and Economic Development Director Deanne Kuennen. Kuennen said this small investment could significantly increase the ability of Living Greens Farm, already a very successful business, to make the most of its planned expansion and thrive in Faribault.
The EDA continues to consider a plan which could bring hot sauce company Cry Baby Craig’s to 313 Central Ave. in downtown Faribault. Cry Baby Craig’s was founded by Craig Kaiser, a Minnesota chef with training in French cuisine from Le Cordon Bleu. The sauce uses a unique recipe with pickled habanero peppers and garlic.
Kaiser developed the recipe in 2012 after his restaurant received habanero peppers instead of jalapenos. With no immediate use for the peppers, Kaiser decided to pickle them, and several months later put them into a hot sauce. The sauce quickly gained a following, and Kaiser soon began selling it to restaurants and consumers. Today, the sauce is sold at retail stores in 10 states and online to consumers across the country.
Cry Baby Craig’s has been working with the State Bank of Faribault to finance the move and purchase new equipment. Currently, the sauce is bottled by hand, but Kaiser and business partner Sam Bonin say the business’ growth has made necessary the acquisition of bottling equipment. The equipment could increase the company’s bottling capacity from 2,000 bottles a day to 2,000 bottles an hour.
Faribault State Bank has committed to provide $200,000 in loans, and the company is seeking $150,000 in loans from the EDA and the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation. After reviewing the company’s most recent loan application, the EDA undertook a loan risk analysis. Based on the results of the review and risk analysis, the EDA decided that it was necessary to request more information.
“What’s unique is that we have two very different companies that are looking to grow and expand in our community,” said Kuennen. “ (This) demonstrates how Faribault has a diverse industry base.”