New townhomes in Ramsey offer affordable rent

When Angie Draack and her husband got divorced, the Fantastic Sams hair stylist was faced with the daunting task of finding an affordable home for herself and her three children.

She found it at The Seasons Townhomes in Ramsey, located on the north side of Bunker Lake Boulevard and between Town Center Drive and Rhinestone Street.

Angie Draack is a single mother who was having trouble finding a good home for herself and her three children with her salary from Fantastic Sams. Angie and her three kids (left to right) Bryson, 7, Avriel, 6, and Aunika, 5 now have an affordable home at The Seasons Townhomes in Ramsey in time for Christmas and have been doing a lot of decorating. Photo by Eric Hagen

Angie Draack is a single mother who was having trouble finding a good home for herself and her three children with her salary from Fantastic Sams. Angie and her three kids (left to right) Bryson, 7, Avriel, 6, and Aunika, 5 now have an affordable home at The Seasons Townhomes in Ramsey in time for Christmas and have been doing a lot of decorating. Photo by Eric Hagen

The UnitedHealth Group partnered with the Minnesota Equity Fund, which is a subsidiary of the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, investing $9.3 million into this project so that households earning 60 percent or less of the area median income can have an affordable place to live. Some units will be leased to folks who cannot afford to pay more than 30 percent of their income to rent. Four units will be set aside for people who were homeless, according to developer Michael Podawiltz, owner of Podawiltz Development.

“I struggled to find something affordable for a single mom,” Draack said. She wanted three bedrooms and most places she looked at were closer to $1,400 a month. She got a three-bedroom home at The Seasons Townhomes for $906 a month. Some two-bedroom units will rent for as low as $480 a month for qualifying people, according to Sonja Simonson, director of syndication and a senior loan officer for the Minnesota Equity Fund.

“I like the area. It’s brand new,” Draack said, adding that some of the other amenities she likes are the washer and dryer in a bedroom closet and a neighborhood park outside their door. Each of the 50 units in the 10 buildings will have Energy Star appliances, energy efficient windows and water conservation faucets, two or three bedrooms and a two-car garage.

Draack still hears trucks moving building materials and the sounds of hammers and saws starting up early in the morning as Podawiltz Development works to wrap up construction by year’s end. But all 50 units have been reserved, according to Lisa Marvin, chief executive officer of Essence Property Management, who has 19 years experience in the industry and manages 26 sites totalling 1,410 units throughout Minnesota.

“There’s such a demand. It’s gone so fast,” Marvin said.

Councilmember Randy Backous called this “a perfect marriage” because the developer is using streets and utilities that a previous developer had constructed and it adds tax base and rooftops to hopefully attract more commercial development to The COR, which is just across the street.

“The development supports the city’s strategic plan by delivering housing to increase our employment base. It’s a major piece of our plan as well to develop different prices and styles of housing for our residents,” Backous said.

The UnitedHealth Group is behind other affordable housing project partnerships with the Minnesota Equity Fund in Faribault, Red Lake Falls and Jacksonville, Ill. In total, this private company has provided $50 million in equity for these projects, which it does receive a low income housing tax credit for, according to Warren Hansen, chief executive officer for the Minnesota Equity Fund.

The Seasons Townhomes in Ramsey will include 50 rental units in 10 buildings once construction wraps up by the end of the year. All units have been reserved and some already moved into by families with incomes between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income. One unit is set aside for the caretaker. Photo by Eric Hagen

The Seasons Townhomes in Ramsey will include 50 rental units in 10 buildings once construction wraps up by the end of the year. All units have been reserved and some already moved into by families with incomes between 30 and 60 percent of the area median income. One unit is set aside for the caretaker. Photo by Eric Hagen

Three more projects are in the pipeline with one of them being in the Twin Cities and a couple of others in outstate Minnesota, Hansen said.

“Our mission is to help people live healthier lives and affordable housing is part of that,” said Craig Renshaw, director of investment of UnitedHealth Group.

While this sizable contribution was key in making this project possible, there were many other partners.

Bremer Bank provided a long-term mortgage that recognizes the contribution will not all come at once, according to Podawiltz.

The city of Ramsey gave away a 0.59-acre parcel to the Podawiltz Development Corporation because it was not developable under current city zoning ordinances unless combined with adjacent development, according to Ramsey Development Services Manager Tim Gladhill. The city also vacated 147th Circle so that 147th Lane could be extended to Town Center Drive to give these residents another access to Bunker Lake Boulevard besides Rhinestone Street.

Gladhill said Brightkeys Development had constructed the streets and installed the utilities in preparation for developing this property. It was eventually foreclosed on and 21st Century Bank sold 6.13 acres to Podawiltz.

“This is a great example of a public-private partnership,” Hansen said.

The new townhomes are close to Ramsey’s Northstar commuter rail station and The COR development that city officials hope will pick up as more homes are constructed in the community.

The proximity to the rail station was mentioned as a positive by many of the speakers at a Nov. 14 ribbon cutting ceremony. The Seasons Townhomes residents will be able to bike, walk or drive to the Northstar Rail station and get to other Anoka County and Sherburne County communities or to Target Field, the airport, the Mall of America, and soon the University of Minnesota and St. Paul once the Green light rail line opens next year.

“Just recently I was in the state of Washington at a rail conference and this was the topic, affordable housing and transit and how the two work interconectively,” said Anoka County Commissioner Matt Look. “What they were talking about is happening here today and now so it’s exciting to see this.”

Eric Hagen is at eric.hagen@ecm-inc.com

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