MANKATO — Housing construction in Mankato, particularly apartment buildings and townhouses, has soared in recent years. And the number of apartments targeted at lower-middle-class workers totals well more than 200 units already completed or in the planning stages.
But when a new city housing study is completed later this year, Kristin Prososki has no expectation that it will conclude that Mankato's shortage of living spaces has been solved.
"I think it's going to be persistent," Prososki said of the housing deficit. "And I wish I could report something different."
Even with apartments or homes being added in all corners of the city, job creation in Mankato has grown even more quickly, surpassing most other parts of greater Minnesota.
"While we've made progress, it just hasn't been sufficient to keep up with the growth," said Prososki, housing and economic development coordinator for the city and the person who will be overseeing an update this year of 2016's Mankato Area Housing Study. "... It's likely the updated study will show we still need more units."
That's particularly true in the "affordable" category.
A study earlier this month by the Minnesota Housing Partnership showed that more than a quarter of Minnesotans pay more than they can afford for housing, and the number is growing. In Blue Earth County, 29.9 percent of households are cost-burdened — meaning they pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing.
But removing homeowners and looking specifically at renters, the local numbers become much more extreme. In that category, 48.3 percent are cost-burdened. And more than one in four are "severely cost-burdened" — people who are paying more than half of their income for housing, according to the report. Statewide, just less than 22 percent of rental households are severely cost-burdened.
Mankato city leaders have recognized the problem, making affordable housing a key issue in the 5-year strategic plan approved by the City Council last year.
"Quality, affordable housing is fundamental to a community’s health and well-being," the plan states before listing a number of initiatives for staff to focus on, including eliminating regulations that are obstacles to affordable housing, supporting the survival of existing low-cost apartments and examining empty retail stores for redevelopment as apartments.
First will come the update of the housing study, which will be conducted by the same consultant that did the 270-page study in 2016 — Community Partners Research of Lake Elmo.
"It will take some time, but it will be done later this year," Prososki said.
The study will look at everything from vacancy rates to housing cost burden to population projections to construction trends as it identifies the size of the housing shortage and in what categories it is most acute. That data will be critical for the creation of the council-mandated affordable housing action plan.
"The information that comes out of the study really gives us a good picture of the current housing situation in the city," Prososki said, adding that Community Partners Research will also predict the number of units in various housing categories that will need to come into existence to meet the projected future demand.
"It gives us a specific goal to try to meet, so that's really useful."