Veteran housing could be in the future for three historic cottages on the site of the former state hospital campus in Anoka.

Local and state officials are actively exploring converting the deteriorating cottages into housing for homeless veterans, after what has been years of uncertainty about the buildings' fate.

Anoka County Commissioner Scott Schulte said the county-owned buildings are in a "terrible state of disrepair." Until recently, each cost about $22,000 a year to preserve. Now the county spends about $5,000 a year, although no money has been budgeted for 2015.

During the summer, the County Board indicated that the city, which wants to preserve the buildings, had a year to figure out what to do with them.

"The county is interested in doing something," Schulte said. "Either tear them down or turn them into something."

The cottages were built in the early 1900s and were part of the historic Anoka Asylum (later called the state hospital and then the regional treatment center) until the state deeded the campus to the county in 2000. The county uses several of the original buildings for various purposes, but for the past decade, the three cottages collected mold, while the foundation crumbled.

"It's a political hot potato," Schulte said. "We realize the historical value of the buildings … And it will upset the public if they are torn down."

State Rep. Jerry Newton, DFL-Coon Rapids, and Anoka city officials have teamed up to develop a plan to transform the buildings into housing for the area's homeless veteran population.

The cottages, located on 4th Avenue, are a few blocks from the Northstar Commuter Rail Station and not far from the VA's outpatient clinic in Ramsey. That's a prime location, Newton said.

Newton hopes the buildings could house up to 30 veterans a night or become an adult day care facility.

The cost to renovate the buildings into the proposed shelter has not been determined, but the county has said it will not fund the project.

City, county and state officials agree the buildings could be suitable for veteran housing, but must be assessed to see whether they meet the needs of local veterans.

Carolyn Braun, planning director for the city of Anoka, said there are 22,800 veterans who live in the county, but there are no housing facilities specifically for veterans.

The proposed idea comes on the heels of the state's plan to end veteran homelessness by 2015. Eric Grumdahl, special adviser on ending veteran homelessness for the state, said in the last few years the number of homeless veterans has decreased by 46 percent.

In late August, county, state officials and Kathleen Vitalis, president and CEO of the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans — a nonprofit that provides help to veterans and their families — visited and toured the cottages near the Rum River.

Vitalis said that the location has potential but that the project should be "more flushed out."

"The county is on board," Schulte said. "Something has to be ironed out and formally accepted. If nothing happens in a year, we would budget it for demolition in 2016."

Karen Zamora • 612-673-4647