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HRA receives $350,000 for housing rehab and construction

The staff of the Stevens County Housing and Redevelopment Authority in front of the apartment building the agency recently purchased from Otter Tail Power and Riverwood Bank. From left to right, Jodi DeCamp, Alice Rasmussen, and Jessica Kirwin.

The Stevens County Housing and Redevelopment Authority has received more than $350,000 through the Small Cities Development Program for projects in Morris and Donnelly.

Over the last four years, the HRA has received more than $1.67 million dollars through this program, which has helped the HRA fulfill its mission of providing access to "decent, safe, sanitary, and affordable housing" for citizens.

"The Small Cities Development Program has been pretty good to us," said Jodi DeCamp, executive director of the HRA.

The HRA also recently purchased Wildwoods Apartments, a 14-unit Section 42 rental building on Iowa Ave in Morris, which they previously managed through a 15-year limited partnership with Otter Tail Power Company and Riverwood Bank. The HRA bought out the two partners and closed on the building June 30, 2011.

The most current SCDP grant has two main parts:

  • Funds to rehab seven owner-occupied houses in Morris and four houses in Donnelly;
  • Funds to provide gap financing for the construction of rental housing by an area employer.

Prior SCDP grants have been used to acquire and demolish dilapidated houses to donate to Habitat for Humanity; owner occupied housing rehab in Hancock and Morris; and improve wastewater infrastructure in Hancock.

The Housing and Redevelopment Authority was formed by Stevens County in the 1960s after officials saw a need for housing activity in the area. The HRA is governed by a separate Board of Directors selected by the county board. This five-member board currently has representatives from Alberta, Hancock, Morris, Donnelly and Chokio.

DeCamp has worked with the HRA since 1990 and served as executive director since July 2010. The other two staff members are Jessica Kirwin and Alice Rasmussen.

"We do a wide variety of things to make [safe housing] available to people," said DeCamp. "Whether it's fixing up the home they're in or helping them get into a rental that's a better situation then where they were - we've had people that were living in Pomme de Terre park in a tent. We've had sad stories. When we can help them one way or another, that's good."

In addition to other projects, the HRA also administers the Section 8 Rental Assistance program to about 128 families per month in the county. Although the program is not necessarily popular nationally, DeCamp said in Stevens County most of the funds "let our grandmas have places to live."

As of August 2011, 32 percent of the people who receive these funds in Stevens County are elderly, and another 31 percent have a disabled or handicapped head of household. The next largest group is families with children. Right now, the program is full and anyone interested in the program is put on a waiting list.

"We're helping people that perhaps wouldn't be able to live in a decent place of their own without some assistance," said DeCamp.

However, DeCamp said the HRA staff often does more than just helping with housing projects. Both Kirwin and Rasmussen come to the office with prior experience in support programs, which allows them to help with everything from employment concerns to collecting extra money for housing projects.

"We've seen so many people that improving where they live just improves so many other aspects of their life," said DeCamp.

"If you have something nice, you want to keep it nice, and that makes all aspects of your life better. Maybe it's easier to go get a job, maybe it's easier to have your kids friends over to play, there are just a lot of things."