Amid a major business boom, Scott County officials are trying to figure out where the people who fill those new jobs can live.
A 66-unit workforce housing complex was completed in Savage in 2013, but it filled up before it opened and soon had a waiting list in the hundreds. Now, another 68 units are planned for Prior Lake, with construction expected to start in 2016 — and tenants likely to follow en masse soon after.
Even before the arrival of big, relatively low-wage employers like Shutterfly and now Amazon, officials in Scott County were bracing for increased affordable housing demand. In 2011, the Scott County Community Development Agency commissioned a Maxfield Research study that found about 800 existing affordable rental units and predicted a need for about 500 more by 2020.
“It’s kind of a Catch-22 here,” said Bill Jaffa, the CDA’s executive director. “Everybody’s excited about the economic development, but then again, how do we provide a stable workforce for those employers?”
The need in Prior Lake was estimated at 95 units — the second-highest in the county, after Shakopee.
Prior Lake’s planned workforce housing, to be built on the city’s northern side Pike Lake, will fill a spot where multiple developments have fallen through.
In 2007, the city approved plans for 11 townhouses and offices there, but the developer didn’t move forward. Since then, other ideas have been brought up — mostly for low-density residential developments — but haven’t come to fruition.
This latest project, proposed by Ron Clark Construction and Design, which also built the project in Savage, will likely be funded with tax increment financing from the city and low-income housing tax credits. The CDA has already approved a deferred loan.
To be eligible to live there, tenants will need to meet annual income restrictions of no more than $36,420 for one person and $61,150 for four people. Monthly rent will be $812 for a one-bedroom apartment.
It’s a start, Jaffa said, but there’s still a ways to go.
“Is it going to be enough?” he said. “Of course not.”
Scott County’s need for affordable housing mirrors what’s happening regionally and across the nation.
In suburban areas, building can be constrained by a shortage of land, mass transit and jobs, said Ed Goetz, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs. There can also be a shortage of supporters, and opponents who are vocal.
So far, concerns about the Prior Lake development have arisen mostly from residents worried about being assessed for nearby road improvements. But other Ron Clark Construction and Design developments have gotten more pushback. Most recently, opponents of a 68-unit workforce housing complex in the city of Carver expressed worry for their children’s safety, saying the development would turn their community into a “slum town.”
Savage’s workforce housing development faced similar opposition, and Ron Clark ultimately modified its plans from an apartment complex to a combination of apartments and townhouses.
“The perception created by workforce housing is that you’re attracting a clientele that maybe is not what you want,” said City Administrator Barry Stock. “That’s where it gets a little dicey, when these projects come up and there’s a misunderstanding sometimes of who’s going to be living there and what actual incomes they have and everything else.”