Recommendations from the housing study of Coon Rapids

The city of Coon Rapids has participated in a housing initiative program offered by the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Minnesota and the Regional Council of Mayors (RCM).

That involvement has produced a housing audit and recommendations from Cathy Bennett of ULI/RCM, which were presented at an April work session involving the Coon Rapids City Council, the Coon Rapids Planning Commission, the Coon Rapids Sustainability Commission and the Coon Rapids Mortgage Assistance Foundation (CRMAF).

The report was accepted by the council at its May 1 meeting and will be discussed for possible implementation at the council’s goal setting retreat planned for June 28 and 29.

“This is a good footprint for us to move forward with our housing stock,” said Mayor Tim Howe.

“Sometimes it takes someone from the outside to breath fresh light on what is happening.”

According to Bennett, the goal of the Opportunity City Program is to provide technical assistance to identify and implement tools and strategies within cities in support of a full range of housing choices important to economic stability and regional prosperity.

“This program also provides access and application of local and national best practices allowing the city to explore community-identified housing priorities,” Bennett wrote in a memo to the council.

The first step in the Opportunity City Program study was a housing audit.

There were five key themes.

• Preservation and rehabilitation.

• Production of housing units that support varied residential life cycles and incomes.

• Use of regulatory incentives.

• Sustainability.

• Jobs/housing balance connected to transportation systems.

“The review of Coon Rapids housing goals indicates a wide range of support for these key themes,” Bennett states in the summary report.

According to Bennett, Coon Rapids policies support a high-quality living environment, the preservation of stable residential neighborhoods and where necessary the upgrading of existing housing stock; variety of housing types and designs; housing affordability; and nondiscrimination.

The report offers a list of recommendations to increase the city’s capacity to provide a full range of housing choices.

• Continue to provide neighborhood preservation strategies – loan programs for home renovations; strategic educational approach to code enforcement; energy efficiency improvements; encourage “transformative” remodeling of existing smaller, older or out-of-date homes; exterior renovation and landscaping fund; and designating established neighborhoods.

• Be proactive in addressing aging in place (increased growth of aging households that are remaining in their homes longer) – accessory dwelling units in existing single-family neighborhoods; identify existing naturally occurring retirement communities (NORCs); communities for a lifetime principles and policies; and universal design features in renovation of housing for those over age 55.

• Attract and retain families and make connections to the increasing diverse resident base – partner with school district, local colleges, faith-based organizations and the real estate community; senior housing regeneration program; work with local employers to determine housing needs of employees; additional support for alternate ownership models; and collaborate to integrate land use, school and community services.

• Increase connectivity to existing neighborhoods; provide walkability with mix of uses in redevelopment areas -  provide a full range of housing choices in all developments; expansion and availability of broadband; and connection of housing with jobs and transportation networks.

To implement the recommendations in the summary report, Bennett suggests the council set both short- and long-term priorities on those that will have the biggest impact in supporting housing goals for a full range of housing choices.

In addition, she recommends the council put in place a work program that outlines the steps and time needed to effectively implement short-term priorities, including budget and staff resources.

This will include how the recommendations impact land use codes, program priorities, service providers and staff workload.

As well, Bennett proposes that the city have an annual housing summit to review progress on priority recommendations and determine the next steps and implications of implementing long-term strategies.

Coon Rapids is one of eight Twin Cities suburbs to have taken part in the Opportunity City Program. It cost the city $5,000.

According to its website, ULI Minnesota engages public and private sector leaders to foster collaboration, share knowledge and join in meaningful strategic action to create thriving, sustainable communities.

Its initiatives are focused in the areas of housing, environment, jobs and economic development, and transportation, the website states.

Supported by ULI Minnesota, the Regional Council of Mayors represents Minneapolis, St. Paul and 47 municipalities in the developed and developing suburbs.

Peter Bodley is at peter.bodley@ecm-inc.com

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