There is a definite need for a lot more housing in the city of Blue Earth, a recent housing study found.
Steven Griesert of Community Partners Research of Faribault, presented the 115-page report to the City Council last Monday night.
His recommendation at the end of the report? Blue Earth needs to come up with a lot more single family homes, rental units and buildable lots.
And, his report recommended that the city and the city’s economic development authority (EDA) proceed with a proposed 51-lot subdivision on the northeast section of the city, near the high school.
“Currently there are no buildable lots available in the city,” Griesert said. “There is a real need for this.”
His report pointed to the fact that two to three new homes, on average, have been constructed in Blue Earth over the past 14 years.
The housing study recommendations also included:
Trying to add five to seven new single-family homes per year over the next six years. Two to three of the homes should be of higher price, one moderate price and two to three should be twin/home town home construction, the report says. Develop 16 to 18 general occupancy rate rental units over the next six years.
The recommendation was for four to five of the units to be one bedroom, 10 to 12 two bedroom and two to three as three bedroom. Rents would be between $625 and $1,000 per month, including utilities.
Develop six to eight new affordable market rate rental units, with rents between $400 and $625 per month.
Also develop eight to 10 more subsidized rental units and preserve those types of units the city currently has. Grirsert pointed to the fact that there are many families in the area with incomes at $25,000 per year or lower.
Develop a downtown Blue Earth “mixed-use building” with commercial space on the ground floor and rental units on the second and third floors.
Griesert pointed out that these downtown apartments would not be in addition to those the rental units already recommended earlier in the study, but could be part of total for new rental units.
He also pointed out that there are currently 22 vacant apartments in downtown Blue Earth buildings most of them empty due to their substandard condition.
Griesert said many small towns are finding success with having apartments in their downtown areas. He also said many are aggressively marketing their new housing developments
Before making his recommendations, Griesert went over a multitude of statistics his firm had gathered about housing in Blue Earth.
They surveyed 1,039 homes in Blue Earth and found that 45 percent are sound, 37 percent need minor repairs, 16 percent need major repairs and 22 homes are beyond repair and need to be torn down.
There are also 469 rental units in the city, with 409 of them occupied. That includes all of the units at St. Luke’s Lutheran Care Center.
The report reflects the population decline in both the city and the county since the 1990 census.
The county has dropped from 16,937 in 1990, to 16,181 in 2000, to 14,553 in 2010. The estimated population in 2013 was 14,192.
For Blue Earth, the population was 3,745 in 1990, 3,621 in 2000, 3,353 in 2010 and estimated to be 3,322 in 2013.
Despite the population decline, Griesert points out that the number of households has actually increased by three since 2010, and is expected to continue to increase by one per year through 2020.
“That is because the number of people per household has decreased,” he says. “So we still have a housing need, even with fewer people.”
He also pointed out that the workforce in Blue Earth has decreased, but there are still 2,374 people working in the city.
Of that number, 38.2 percent of them live in the city, while 61.8 percent live outside the city limits or in other towns.
“That means there are 1,400 people commuting into work here every day,” Griesert says. “We need to capture some of those 1,400 people as potential residents.”
While he admits there are many reasons why people do not live where they work, one of those reasons can be housing availability.
“With the new proposed housing subdivision, it is important to promote it as a great place to live,” he said. “If you do, then it will succeed.”