Group seeks funds to rehab vacant rental houses in St. Joseph

by Mike Nistler

With a July 11 deadline looming, local realtor Cori Ehlert hopes to garner support for securing an application to receive state money that would help restore rental houses in the city.

Ehlert is asking the City of St. Joseph, the St. Joseph Area Chamber of Commerce, the St. Cloud Area Association of Realtors, the College of St. Benedict and local civic organizations to back the project.

And while some of those entities have verbally supported that effort, Ehlert is wanting them to put some financial backing on the table in the form of “participation funds,” which would make the application look even stronger.

His goal is for at least $50,000 in backing to help bolster a chance of receiving state funds that could be used to fix a minimum of five homes out of the estimated 10 to 15 vacant rental  houses in the city. Additional homes could also be completed if the first five homes are finished in a timely manner.

The local agency that will submit the application to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency is the Central Minnesota Housing Partnership of St. Cloud.

According to Jason Krebsbach, community development director at the CMHP, the rehabilitation funds would be used to address the city’s vacant rental housing issue brought on in part by new student-housing requirements at CSB.

CMHP proposes to purchase vacant single-family rental homes in designated areas of the city. The homes would be purchased based on a review of all the vacant rental properties, the property owners’ interest and the overall home condition. Ehlert, a St. Joseph resident and a realtor with Edina Realty, would assist the CMHP in home-purchase transactions, Krebsbach said.

Once a home is purchased, the CMHP would perform a complete Housing Quality Standards inspection and have a lead-paint-risk assessment completed. Based on inspection results and lead assessment, the CMHP would complete a plan to rehabilitate the property.

The CMHP, with Ehlert’s assistance, would then determine if there are any rehabilitation items to be addressed in regard to conversion from a rental property to an owner-occupied home.

Once the rehab on the house is done, the home would be put up for sale. The sale price would be determined by a market analysis of similar properties, Krebsbach said.

“Homes will be eligible for purchase by homebuyers with gross annual incomes of 115 percent of area median income or less,” he said. “Our target homebuyer will be those with gross
annual incomes of 80 percent of area median income or less. Homebuyers at these
income levels will have access to “needs-based” down payment/entry cost

Ehlert said the homes in need of rehab were once used for student rentals. They are larger homes with several bedrooms and bathrooms, which are not in the best condition and thus not likely to currently make good family housing. By fixing the homes and making them more likely for resale, the effort becomes a win-win situation for everyone involved, including the neighborhood, the new residents of the home and the city.

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