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Does Blue Earth need more houses

By Staff | Nov 23, 2014

Like many folks who have moved to Blue Earth in the past few years, I found out quickly there is a lack of suitable houses for sale, and places to rent. Oh, there were many houses for sale, and there are a lot of apartments and townhouses in the city, but not many were available and those that were, well, they were not always what I was looking for.

Now a 115-page housing study report presented at the last Blue Earth City Council meeting confirms that perception as being correct.

It is one thing to think there are few quality homes for sale (think three-four bedrooms, two and a half bath, two car garage at least) and yet another to have that spelled out in the housing survey.

It is one thing to wonder if there is a large enough buildable lot somewhere in town where such a house can be built, and then learn the housing study reports there are not really any.

Many of us believe there are quite a few old, empty houses that simply need to ‘go away.’ The housing survey agrees, and lists 22 of them in Blue Earth. That’s right 22 houses in Blue Earth are listed as beyond repair and should be demolished.

One surprising fact in the survey was that 1,400 people commute to work into Blue Earth. Now that might mean they live just a mile out of the city limits, but still, 1,400 is a big number. And some of those folks drive a ways to get here.

The survey not only lists pages of facts about housing, population, employment and other statistics, it gets down to making 24 recommendations.

And, they are pretty bold recommendations.

The survey says the city of Blue Earth needs to build several new homes every year, construct a lot of apartment rental units over the next six years, and find a way to have buildable lots available.

The city has already looked at building a new 51-lot subdivision north of the high school, and the people who did the housing survey urge them to go ahead with it albeit in stages, if necessary.

There are other creative ideas.

Despite the fact that there are already several townhouse units in Blue Earth, there is a definite need for more of them.

They point out there are 24 empty apartment units above the downtown buildings. Most are that way because they were abandoned years ago and have never been modernized. A few have been all fixed up, and are currently rented out.

The folks who did the housing study think it would be great to get those empty apartments upgraded and into the housing market.

But, they go a step further. They also suggest the city construct a new building in the downtown area that would have space on the ground level for commercial business, and nice apartments upstairs on the second and possibly third floor.

Other cities have done this, even smaller cities, and they have been hugely popular. People seem to like living close to, or even in, the downtown area.

As housing studies go, this one is about the most thorough I have ever seen.

But, even as good as it is, it doesn’t mean a thing if it gets looked at once and shelved.

Can Blue Earth follow some of these recommendations and improve the quality and number of housing units in the city? Only time will tell.

It is on the agenda of both the EDA and the HRA, as well as the City Council itself.

In order for the city to have the potential to grow, it sometimes takes bold steps and, of course, it all takes money. Aye, there’s the rub.

Five or six years from now we can look back and see if this study made a difference.

Will Blue Earth actually have grown in population for a change, or will it have continued to decline in numbers?

Will there be some new houses being built in a subdivision by the high school? Will there be a new apartment or townhome complex somewhere in the city? Will there be some nice, newly remodeled apartments in the downtown area?

Or will things remain the status quo.

Only time will tell.