Melissa Hanson knows the feeling of housing insecurity all too well.
Hanson, Northfield’s new housing coordinator who has been the leader of the city’s ongoing battle to supply adequate, safe and sanitary dwellings since the retirement of Janine Atchison at the end of May, hopes to use her experience to help as many area residents as she can.
A winding road
While in her early 20s, Hanson cleaned apartments and worked as a leasing agent for the apartment complex she lived in. However, during that time as a mother of two young children, she was housing insecure.
“It was the most horrible feeling to ever have to go through that,” she said of housing insecurity. “And during that time waiting lists were closed. Nothing was open. We had our name though on the townhome program in Dakota County, but even then that was a two-year waiting list, what was open. I don’t think anybody should have to go through that — not at all. It affects your family in a way that people who are blessed to have never experienced that, they will never understand.”
Hanson went on to receive her real estate license and worked for Edina Realty for 18 months. She taught multiple listing service courses and was considered a go-to source. When the housing bubble burst in 2007-08, she returned to school and got a degree in business administration, with a focus in marketing and advertising, from St. Catherine University.
Hanson has served with the Scott County Community Development Agency for 12 years, mainly working as a housing specialist on Section 8 housing, with project-based assistance and the county’s Bridges and Housing Trust Fund, programs intended to help people with high needs by providing a housing subsidy that is linked with community mental health services and serving households experiencing long-term homelessness.
Hanson’s new position is a sharp departure from her previous work and includes more focus on creating housing programs. She administers Community Development Block Program funds for first-time homebuyers, leads a housing rehabilitation program, encourages landlords to accept Section 8 vouchers and heads up a mobile home repair fund that helps mobile home owners ensure their homes stay in good repair.
“I was hoping to make a difference on a much broader scale with getting into the community development, the program development, that side of things,” she said of her new position. “It’s exciting, it’s energizing.”
Meeting the need
The HRA is assisting with the Southbridge development and the second phase of Spring Creek Townhomes. The HRA also owns four properties with five units obtained through tax forfeitures. Of those, three will be under contract with the Community Action Center for transitional housing.
Part of Hanson’s work includes helping to redevelop Florella’s manufactured home park and introducing non-single family housing.
“I’m not in this to make a name or even a continued legacy for myself at all,” she said. “I just want to help people and do it in a common-sense way and be fiscally and financially responsible with the tax money that is going into these projects, but there is a need for affordable housing. We need full-on, life-cycle housing here.”
However, Hanson knows that if landlords are taken to task over substandard rental conditions, there is still a need to ensure tenants aren’t retaliated against or suffer subsequent homelessness caused by the situation.
“Maintenance has been put off to the point where now it’s so expensive, and so I really think that we need to encourage our landlords to take care of their properties and to do repairs as they go,” Hanson said of Northfield landlords.
HRA Chair Brent Nystrom said though he hasn’t worked extensively with Hanson, he is impressed with her previous work.
“I like her energy, certainly to the job, and she brings a different background, a different skill set,” he said.
“She’s a great hire for Northfield.”