The rental vacancy rate in Dakota County is 2.9 percent, the lowest in at least a decade. The fair-market value of a two-bedroom apartment is $924. Almost a quarter of families who rent are paying at least 50 percent of their income on housing.

Those statistics from the Minnesota Housing Partnership and Marquette Advisors might offer a clue as to why there's already a waiting list for the Northwood Townhomes development in Eagan. The Dakota County Community Development Agency (CDA) hopes to begin construction on the 47-unit "workforce housing development" later this month.

The CDA started its workforce housing developments in 1990 to provide affordable rental housing to modest-income families with children under the age of 18. When Northwood is built, there will be 670 two- and three-bedroom units at 21 sites in the county. That includes the recently completed Twin Ponds, a 26-unit development in Farmington, which is accepting applications and being occupied this summer.

Plans also call for two more developments, Riverview Ridge (about 27 units) in Eagan and Inver Hills (24 units) in Inver Grove Heights, to begin construction in 2013.

Eagan, in particular, has a large employment base of people in modest-paying jobs such as insurance claims processing or medical records, residents trying to raise a family and make needs meet. Many pay a disproportionate percentage of their income for housing.

Supporting families

"That's really the group that we're trying to serve," said Kari Gill, deputy executive director of the CDA. "A lot of people, if their housing is affordable then they don't need other kinds of assistance. If people have housing, they can afford a reliable car, food, day care, all of that."

That's also why there's already a waiting list, Gill said. Applications generally aren't taken until construction begins.

Rents in the "Family Townhome Program" range from $630 to $650 for a two-bedroom unit to $685 to $705 for a three-bedroom unit. Income cannot exceed $40,320 for a two-person household to $58,500 for a six-person household. Preference is given for lesser incomes.

Northwood Townhomes will be built north of Yankee Doodle Road and west of Lexington. The $5.6 million construction contract was awarded two weeks ago to CBS Construction. Most of the funds come from the Federal Income Tax Credit and donations from corporations, Gill said.

The city of Eagan actually approached the CDA about redeveloping the old Richfield Blacktop site on Hwy. 13 between Letendre Street and Four Oaks Road. The agency currently is applying for funding to build that. The Inver Hills site will be on College Trail, east of Bower Path and adjacent to Inver Hills Community College.

There has been little to no neighborhood resistance to Twin Ponds, Northwood or the two proposed developments in Eagan and Inver Grove Heights, city officials said.

Little debate

No one voiced objections at a public hearing on the Inver Hills project, and only one resident came to the City Council meeting where the project was discussed, said Inver Grove Heights city administrator Joe Lynch. That man, he said, "was opposed to it because of the increase in traffic and the proximity to his property -- where there wasn't any development, there would be development."

In Eagan, residents have only been supportive, said city spokesman Tom Garrison.

"Eagan has a fairly nice history in that regard," he said. "They've been supportive of the work the CDA has done, affordable housing in the Thomas Lake area, a variety of senior housing within Eagan."

Farmington, too, has been supportive of the Twin Ponds development.

"There were only about three houses that were there at the time [the project was approved]," said city planner Lee Smick. "Honestly there's only five or six houses out there now.

"Whenever we can get a variety of people to come into our community, it's always a good thing," she said.

Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284