The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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July 26, 2011

Eagle Lake public housing townhomes are open for business

Breckenridge Townhomes geared toward families

EAGLE LAKE — If Eagle Lake were a business, its product would be housing, Mayor Tim Auringer said. The bedroom community has a new offering, the first of its kind in the state.

Breckenridge Townhomes, an 18-unit government housing project, got its first tenants this week.

Among them were Lolita Beauregard, a longtime Le Sueur resident who moved into a two-bedroom townhome with her 14-year-old daughter Tuesday morning. How does it feel?

“Oh God, I like it,” she said after an afternoon ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Her new home is closer to her North Mankato job, not to mention the two bathrooms and new appliances, including a washer and dryer.

The innovative part of the project is its equal mix of public housing and market-rate units, said Rick Goodemann, executive director of the Southwest Minnesota Housing Partnership, which assembled the financing for Breckenridge.

All 18 units are owned by the county, but the difference is in how much the tenants will pay and who qualifies to live there.

The market-rate units have a fixed rent, $505 for the two-bedroom units and $550 for the three-bedroom units. They’re the only publicly owned units in the county with fixed rents.

The income limit for these units is 60 percent of median income, or about $27,000 for one person, with about $8,000 more for each additional person in the family.

The other nine are traditional public housing units, where occupants pay 30 percent of their income. If they have no income, there would be no rent.

There’s no way to tell just by looking which units are market-rate and which are public housing, which was done by design.

All 18 units face a courtyard that includes a playground and a small gazebo. Inside, the units have a flooring with an artificial covering that looks like wood. Underneath, the floor is mostly wood-chips and includes 74 percent recycled content.

The walls around the first-floor bathrooms are reinforced, so-called “safe storm shelter rooms,” as there are no basements.

The financing for the $3.6 million project is complicated, but is mostly from state and federal sources. About $1 million came from the sale of nine public housing units in Amboy plus replacement money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Another $1.1 million came from tax credits, a common way of funding public housing. The IRS gives credits to the states, which sell them to investors, who can use them as dollar-for-dollar reductions on their income taxes.

The rest of the funding was patched together from many sources.

In the long-term, operations for the nine public housing units come from the federal government, with the rents from the market-rate units supporting their own upkeep.

The story of Breckenridge’s location is nearly as complicated as its financing.

Back in early 2008, developers were looking at a different site in Eagle Lake and about seven residents testified that they didn’t want public housing near them.

Auringer said there have been two schools of thought on public housing. Some people, him included, see it as a welcomed addition to a diverse group of housing. Others are resentful about what they think are handouts.

Auringer, in his fourth term as mayor, said he doesn’t want his city to be known as an unwelcome place.

“It concerns me that Eagle Lake may get that kind of a label,” he said.

In the end, the chosen site was on the west edge of town, surrounded on three sides by corn fields and the fourth by a road.

Eagle Lake in general was chosen as a site because of the lack of affordable homes to buy or rent and the promise of several hundred jobs from a Walmart distribution center planned to be built nearby.

The townhomes were named for one of Eagle Lake’s 19th century founders.

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