With some residents of the problem-plagued Country Village apartments likely to start the new year looking for new places to live, local nonprofits and faith leaders are trying to rally the community to help.
After spending months dealing with complaints at the complex -- including broken plumbing, insect and rodent infestations, sagging ceilings and mold -- the Burnsville City Council vowed to withhold rental licenses for any of the 138 apartments that don't pass an inspection. Owner Lindahl Properties would be prohibited from renting those units and anyone living there would need to move.
The Scott-Carver-Dakota CAP Agency is leading the effort to help residents with a plea for financial donations to help people pay security deposits at new apartments, usually the equivalent of one or two months rent.
"This is an unexpected expense for clients that are already low income," said Rebecca Bowers of the CAP Agency. "We know our families are going to need help with more than just deposits. They're going to need help with moving expenses, or even a moving van."
The CAP Agency has long offered rent assistance, but even without the influx of clients from Country Village, the nonprofit gets as many as 50 calls a day for that program.
It will cost an estimated $30,000 to $50,000 to help everyone at Country Village who needs help with deposits, even if it ends up being only half the residents,
"At a time when the needs are so great, this is an extra burden, really, to be able to come up with that kind of money," Bowers said.
So far, the city has licensed 32 of the 138 apartments at Country Village. The rest will be inspected and, if they meet requirements, issued licenses in January.
Tom Hansen, Burnsville's deputy city manager, said that some of the needed fixes are relatively minor and may be corrected by the time the inspectors come through -- at a cost of $130 per visit for Lindahl Properties.
Officials estimate that about 100 of the apartments at Country Village are occupied.
But the number of residents who will have to move is still unclear. While some have said they are eager to leave and welcome city action that may void their leases, others have said they would rather stay, as long as the apartments are fixed, so they don't have to take kids out of school mid-year or try to find new housing.
Data suggests few apartments are available: The vacancy rate in Dakota County is less than 2 percent.
"We're not in the business of providing alternative housing for folks, but at the same time, we are aware of a lot of connections for them in the community," Hansen said.
The city will send a letter to all the residents that will include a page of frequently asked questions with referrals to legal aid groups, the CAP Agency and others who can help.
In addition to collecting financial donations, CAP is also asking for clean bedding and towels; many Country Village residents may have to leave theirs behind because of bedbug infestations.
For the same reason, people who have furniture to donate are also asked to call CAP.
A similar message is circulating through local churches.
Jean MacFarland, a Burnsville resident and chairwoman of the Metropolitan Interfaith Council on Affordable Housing, has tapped that network and expects congregations, especially in the south metro area, to step up.
"Our mission is that everyone, without exception, will have decent, safe, affordable housing," MacFarland said. "[Country Village] may be affordable but it isn't decent."
Her home parish, Mary, Mother of the Church in Burnsville, will coordinate the faith communities' response in conjunction with CAP.
"These are our neighbors that are going to have to move," MacFarland said. "It's right in our back yard, and people will see the immediate need."
Katie Humphrey • 952-746-3286