City officials and area residents are anticipating the results of Koochiching County’s first comprehensive, countywide housing study.

But they won’t need to wait much longer.

The Koochiching County Housing Collaborative along with Steven Griesert of Community Partners Research Inc., the firm conducting the study on the county’s behalf, will this week host a series of community presentations to share the findings of the study that provides analysis for each city within the county.

Griesert spent time on the ground in Ranier, International Falls, Littlefork, Big Falls, Mizpah, and Northome meeting with elected officials, realtors, bankers, employers, landlords, HUD officials, and social service providers to get additional local perspective from the individual communities to aid in his research.

According to the study, the goals were to: provide updated demographic data, provide an analysis of the current housing stock and inventory, determine gaps or unmet housing needs, examine future housing trends that the cities in the county and Koochiching County can expect to address in the coming years, provide a market analysis for housing development and provide housing recommendations and findings.

“(It’s a) look at everything in total — demographics, market, pricing, conditions, a look at opportunities...,” said Paul Nevanen, director of the Koochiching Economic Development Authority, the entity that hired Community Partners Research Inc. “We need something like this to help with the finance piece of it. It’s a snapshot in time but I think it will help for potential development or redevelopment.”

The study was funded with a grant from the Minnesota Housing Partnership and 27 entities including the participating communities, non-profit organizations, lenders, and Koochiching County, which Nevanen said shows a lot.

“It’s financed by a whole host that saw a need,” he said. “It says a lot about the whole topic of housing in our county.”

And those working in the areas benefiting from the study are anticipating the presentations.

“(The Littlefork City Council is) looking forward to attending the presentation in Littlefork as it will be information specific to Littlefork and Big Falls will be highlighted at that time,” said Littlefork city Administrator Sonja Pelland. “We are hoping that there will be community attendance and participation in the conversation and that the findings and suggestions will help with economic development and sustainability not just for the county, but for the city of Littlefork as well.”

Elsewhere in the county, committees are already in talks of being formed, which Nevanen said is where the real work begins.

“The (Ranier City) Council has reviewed the findings and will create a committee that can analyze and implement the recommendations of the housing study,” Ranier city Administrator Sherril Gautreaux told The Journal. “Mayor (Dennis) Wagner stated that none of the findings were very surprising, however, having all of the information in one document along with specific recommendations is very helpful. He is anxious to work with the housing agencies to prioritize recommendations of the study and develop a plan to move forward in working with programs that assist in home ownership and home rehabilitation.”

Sample findings

  • The study says since 2010, International Falls has lost an annual average of between 59 and 65 people per year and the projected change in households from 2018 to 2023 is expected to include a loss of 144 households; Littlefork is projected to lose 12 households, and Ranier is projected to lose 10.
  • Recommendations provided by the study for International Falls include planning for the production of 20 to 24 market rate general occupancy rental units over the next five years, among others. Based on research, there is a need for rental units of all sizes.
  • A projected 240 employees are commuting into Littlefork daily for work, but some of these employees would potentially move to the area if additional housing was available. The study suggests the addition of six to eight general occupancy market rate rental units.
  • Ranier, too, was recommended to add eight to 10 general occupancy market rate rental units as approximately 74 employees are commuting to Ranier daily for work.
  • The county’s unemployment rate has remained well above the Minnesota average, at 7.4 percent in 2017 compared to the state’s 3.5 percent.

The study will be available to those who cannot attend the presentations, added Nevanen.

“I’m encouraged by what I’ve seen so far. I hope people do come out,” he said.

Gautreaux agreed.

“We are in hopes that the presentation next week will be attended by builders and financing entities that will be interesting in working with Koochiching County and its cities in our housing needs,” she said.

Griesert’s firm has conducted more than 325 city and county studies over 24 years.

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