Coon Rapids housing program wins national award

A Coon Rapids program has won a national award for government innovation.

Phase one of the Home for Generations program, which began in 2009 and ended in 2012, has received the Bright Ideas Award for government innovation from the Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation in Cambridge, Mass.

There were over 600 applications submitted for the award nationwide, including Coon Rapids, according to Kristin DeGrande, city neighborhood coordinator.

That number was narrowed to 100, including Coon Rapids’ Home for Generations program, that were selected to progress to the next level of consideration, DeGrande said.

A lengthy process ensued before Coon Rapids was notified that Home for Generations was one of 13 programs to receive the Bright Ideas Award, she said.

The first phase of the Home for Generations program was aimed at stabilizing neighborhoods in the city by providing feasible and relatable demonstrations of home remodeling techniques to residents and potential homebuyers in the area, according to DeGrande.

The Coon Rapids Housing and Redevelopment Authority purchased five foreclosed and vacant older homes in the city over the four-year period.

The city hired local contractors to remodel the homes using innovative and budget-friendly improvement ideas and residents were invited to open houses to see the remodeling process before, during and after construction was complete, DeGrande said.

“By doing this, we demonstrated that home remodeling can be creative as well as affordable,” she said.

The city also brought a realtor on board to list and sell the remodeled home not with the idea of making a profit, but to recoup the city’s costs of acquiring and remodeling the home, DeGrande said.

With the housing economy stabilizing, the city has moved on to phase two of Home for Generations, she said.

The new program, which began this spring, offers resources and financial incentives to homeowners to complete large remodeling projects at their own home, DeGrande said.

“Bright Ideas is an initiative that recognizes creative and promising government programs and partnerships,” she said.

According to Mayor Tim Howe, this award is “wonderful” and “very exciting” for the city and the Home for Generations program.

“I want to compliment all those who were part of the program,” Howe said.

“City staff worked very hard.”

Looking online at the list of the other award winners, Howe said that many of them were consortiums rather than individual cities, like Coon Rapids.

And several other cities in the metro area have pattered programs they have started on Coon Rapids’ Home for Generations, he said.

“Now we will see that happen on a national level,” Howe said.

The genesis for the program was a discussion between the Coon Rapids City Council and city staff at a strategic planning session on ways to improve the housing stock in the city, according to Howe.

The timing of the Home for Generations program could not have been better given the struggling housing market, Howe said.

In a letter to the city announcing the award, Christina Marchand and Kara O’Sullivan, associate directors of the Innovations in American Government Awards, wrote that the Bright Idea program “shines a light on noteworthy and promising government programs and practices so that government leaders, public servants and other individuals can learn about these ideas and adopt initiatives that work.”

The Coon Rapids Home for Generations project has been highlighted on the Ash Center’s government innovators network and has also become part of the network’s open collection of innovations, the letter states.

“We hope that in time, some of these Bright Ideas will be adopted widely…,” Marchand and O’Sullivan wrote.

The Bright Ideas initiative was launched in 2010 by the Innovations in American Government Awards program to “further recognize and promote creative government initiatives and partnerships and create an online community where innovative ideas can be proposed, shared and disseminated, according to the Ash Center website.

The Innovations in American Government Awards is the nation’s preeminent program devoted to recognizing and promoting excellence and creativity in the public sector, highlighting exemplary models of government innovation and advances efforts to address the nation’s most pressing public concerns, the website states.

Peter Bodley is at [email protected]