The push to transform Anoka’s three deteriorating Rum River Cottages into veteran housing continues on the right track.
Last month officials from the city, Anoka County and the affordable housing nonprofit CommonBond discussed a potential partnership to renovate the cottages for that purpose.
“Everyone is cautiously very optimistic,” said Carolyn Braun, planning director for the city of Anoka. “We are at the stage thinking this really might work, but we still have a lot of due diligence to do.”
Braun said nothing has been finalized, but the next step would be to draft a lease allowing CommonBond to control the property and begin the estimated $11.3 million project to renovate the buildings.
Last summer, the Anoka County Board indicated that the city, which wants to preserve the now-vacant structures, had a year to figure out what to do with them — either find a use for them or possibly see them torn down.
“We were kind of in the ‘We think this could work,’ ” Braun said. “Now we are in the minutiae of the deal.”
The cottages, located on 4th Avenue, were built in the early 1900s and were part of the historic Anoka Asylum, which later was called the state hospital and then the regional treatment center until the state deeded the campus to the county in 2000. The “cottages” are actually two-story brick buildings, but they gave a less institutional feel than a single massive building would have and were smaller.
The county uses several of the original campus buildings for various purposes, but for the past decade, the three cottages collected mold as the foundation crumbled.
Veteran housing has been the front-running idea for them.
It’s a feasible option, and the need is there, Braun said.
She said there are about 22,800 veterans who live in Anoka County, but no housing facilities specifically for them.
The location of the cottages has also added to the appeal. They are a few blocks from the Northstar Commuter Rail Station, which provides a connection to the VA outpatient clinic in Ramsey, a few miles away and close to another Northstar station in that city.
“There’s probably many uses for the buildings,” Braun said. “We think we came up with a winning project that meets needs but is fund-able and at the same time can preserve the buildings.”
The proposed idea comes on the heels of the state’s plan to end veteran homelessness by the end of 2015. In the last few years the number of homeless veterans has decreased by 46 percent, according to state officials.
The city is optimistic of the partnership with CommonBond.
CommonBond officials said it is too soon to comment because the project is in the hands of the city.
CommonBond has developed, owns or manages more than 5,700 affordable rental apartments and townhouses throughout Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa. The organization serves families, seniors and people with disabilities. On average, residents’ household income is $19,400 a year, according to its website.
A recent CommonBond project at Fort Snelling transformed five historic buildings, former horse stables and barns into 58 housing units. The $17.2 million project will open in the next few months.