Backus Community Center/AB

How the Alexander Baker building looks in 2019.

Decisions and deadlines are on the horizon for the future of a potential multi-family housing unit in International Falls.

Officials helping spearhead a project to transform the Alexander Baker School building into affordable housing units told The Journal in November the next step is if KOOTASCA Community Action will step into the role of a primary developer.

“The (KOOTASCA) board meets Dec. 12 to consider the project's feasibility and whether we'd have a role in the final development,” said Isaac Meyer, KOOTASCA planning and development director. "It's a lot for our board to weigh, but it's really exciting and promising.”

A lot of behind-the-scenes work has been done over the last several years on the adaptive reuse of the vacant, historic building. The project has gained support from Minnesota Housing Partnership, an organization that works with communities to research housing needs and develop projects.

“They exist to increase the capacity of housing in our community with particular attention to building capacity,” Meyer said of the organization. "They want to see our area fix some of its housing problems, but also build local capacity."

Ward Merrill, executive director of Backus Community Center, said originally, the plan for the three-story AB building was to bring KOOTASCA’s anti-poverty programming, community services and Head Start classrooms to the first floor and affordable housing to the second and third floors. Now, however, all three floors will be used for housing if the project moves forward.

“We're looking to maximize all three floors for housing,” he said. "It's important for us to bring the building back to use, but also to bring it back to use as an affordable housing project. It meets the need of the adaptive reuse of the building and the housing in this area. That was well documented in the (local) housing study released earlier this year."

The study was funded by the Koochiching County Housing Collaborative, a group made up of motivated community members and officials which meets regularly to analyze the housing shortage. Merrill said without the study, the AB project would have likely lost momentum early on. 

"We needed that housing study and we needed it to support the adaptive reuse of the AB building," he said. 

Moving forward

Merrill and Meyer said 2019 was a big year for the AB project and everyone involved.

Should the KOOTASCA Board approve the project, the next biggest deadline would be in June when an application to Minnesota Housing for housing tax credits is due.

“That's a key deadline looming ahead of us,” Merrill said. “In the meantime, there's a lot of other pieces that have to come together.”

After submitting the application early next summer, the group will find out if it was successful in November. 

“If we're awarded (funding), we'll be putting the entire project into place,” Meyer said. "Once a project is funded, the rate of success is almost essentially 100 percent."

And while the men are optimistic about the project, they acknowledged it might not get funded the first time around.

“It's hard to say if we'll get funded the first time,” Meyer said. “We've got a lot of work to do until we get that application in. There are a lot of decisions to be made.”

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