ROCHESTER — Rochester and Olmsted County plan to explore solutions to the area's growing affordable housing and homelessness issues with help from a federal housing initiative.

The city and county on Friday formally joined House America, an effort by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness to steer money and technical knowledge to states, communities and tribal nations to offset COVID's impact on housing issues.

"It's partnerships like this that make me so optimistic about the future of our community," Olmsted County Board Chair Mark Thein said Friday at a ceremony touting the area's current and future housing work.

Olmsted County plans to add more than 120 housing units and help 100 families experiencing homelessness within the next few years using part of the $31 million it has received in American Rescue Plan Act funding. Rochester is looking for ways to expand housing opportunities for working class and low-income families.

Local officials say they'll use the new program to work on even more plans with community groups to address housing.

"We've got plenty of work ahead," Rochester Mayor Kim Norton said.

Local leaders have focused on housing and homelessness in recent years as more homeless residents settled near downtown Rochester. Norton said she made it a priority when she noticed more people experiencing homelessness in downtown skyways in 2019.

Olmsted County officials saw an opportunity in 2020 when they decided to buy a former assisted living building in downtown Rochester.

The center closed earlier that year, but opened back up in July as an 18-unit transitional housing facility after the county used $1 million in federal COVID funding to acquire it. Within its first week, the 105 on Broadway facility took in 15 homeless residents and set up a working agreement with Catholic Charities of Southern Minnesota to staff it.

Olmsted County has created or developed more than 200 housing units for people in need of homes over the past three years. The Rochester City Council in 2020 allocated $5.1 million in federal CARES Act funding to community services, which included more than $400,000 to homeless programs such as a day center, funding for 105 on Broadway and a warming center through Catholic Charities.