County approves lease for cottages

Contributing Writer

A lease agreement for the city of Anoka to rehabilitate four unused buildings at the county’s Rum River Human Services Center into housing for homeless veterans was approved unanimously by the Anoka County Board Tuesday , Sept. 26.

The Anoka City Council had approved the agreement for cottages 2, 3 and 4 plus the auditorium at its meeting Sept. 18.

Under the agreement, the city has 10 years to develop the four properties for housing and at a point one or more of the buildings has been certified for occupancy for veterans housing, the lease on those buildings will be extended 25 more years with one additional five-year renewal.

The four buildings are part of the old Anoka State Hospital site that the 2000 Minnesota Legislature transferred to the county and now comprise the county’s Rum River Human Services Center.

Most of the former state hospital buildings are used or maintained by the county, but the auditorium and the three cottages “have no present usage nor are there are plans to use them in the future,” according to County Administrator Jerry Soma.

The county has determined that veterans housing is compatible with the programs housed in the other buildings at the site, Soma said.

The city of Anoka has identified Eagle’s Healing Nest, a Sauk Center volunteer organization, as its first choice to implement the veterans housing model.

“This is very exciting,” said Anoka County Board Chairperson Rhonda Sivarajah. “We can’t think of a better use and we are happy to come to an agreement on the lease.”

Sivarajah thanked Soma and the Anoka County Attorney’s Office for their hard work in negotiating and drafting the lease agreement as well as State Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, for his “passion” and involvement in the project.

Abeler, who worked with both the county and city on the project and is also liaison with Eagle’s Healing Nest, thanked the county for its willingness to lease the buildings to the city in an effort to deal “with the horrible problem of veterans homelessness.”

Abeler said it will be a challenge to get these buildings up and running quickly to house homeless veterans, but it is the right thing to do for “these men and women who have put themselves in harm’s way.”

The agreement to open up these buildings to house homeless veterans has been a long time coming, said County Commissioner Scott Schulte, who was involved in the lease negotiations.

The county and city have worked diligently to make this a reality, he said.