Habitat for Humanity plans three-year Cottage Grove townhome projectTwin Cities Habitat for Humanity picked Cottage Grove as one of its targeted suburban development areas. Habitat plans three years of townhome construction in the incomplete Mississippi Dunes housing development west of Highway 61.
By: Scott Wente, South Washington County Bulletin
Cottage Grove’s location makes it ideal for an affordable housing project.
That’s the assessment of Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity, which picked Cottage Grove as one of its targeted suburban development areas. Habitat plans three years of townhome construction in the incomplete Mississippi Dunes housing development west of Highway 61.
Habitat’s interest in Cottage Grove comes as it wraps up a multi-year development project in neighboring Woodbury. Both communities are appealing to many Habitat home applicants because the cities are close to Minneapolis and St. Paul but are in the suburbs, said Alice Melton, the family services outreach and sales liaison with Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.
“Also, Washington County has been generally really great working with us to get their affordable housing numbers up,” Melton said.
Habitat plans to build four three-bedroom townhomes annually over a three-year period beginning in 2013 and ending in 2015. The properties are in the 6700 block of 99th Street, north of 100th Street and west of Hadley Avenue.
Habitat purchased eight of the 12 lots using $80,000 in federal HOME grants awarded to Washington County. That covers 2013 and 2014 construction, said Matt Haugen, Habitat’s communications specialist. The organization’s current plan calls for it to pay for the remaining four lots — to be developed in 2015 — with its own funds, but Habitat may apply for more HOME dollars, Haugen said.
The organization’s decision to focus on Cottage Grove was good news to Jen Peterson, a Cottage Grove City Council member who has worked for a couple of years to lure Habitat to the area. Peterson said she lobbied for Habitat through work on volunteer Washington County commissions. She saw it as a way to jumpstart idled construction after the property’s former developer went bankrupt.
The townhomes will be designed to blend in with surrounding homes.
“They really try to make sure the houses are going to fit in the community,” said Peterson, who years ago as a single mother was in line to become a Habitat homeowner but turned it down after meeting her husband.
Peterson hopes these 12 townhome units pave the way for a larger Habitat for Humanity presence in Cottage Grove beyond 2015.
“That would be great if that were possible,” she said.
As it begins its strategic plan, Habitat scheduled an informational meeting for potential housing applicants at 5:30 p.m. Oct. 30 at Park Grove Branch Library in Cottage Grove. The meeting will cover information about how to apply for a Habitat home. Habitat plans to match families to the Cottage Grove townhomes beginning in March 2013, with some building beginning next summer, Melton said.
Habitat has an extensive ownership application process. Applicants attend an orientation session and then provide an initial reporting of their income to determine whether they qualify. They must earn 30 to 50 percent of the median area income. They must provide a photo ID and tax and employment documents. If they provide all of that information, they are placed in a pool of applicants and await an at-home interview. Habitat volunteers meet with them to assess their need for housing and willingness to partner with the organization. If those interviews are positive, applicants enter a matching pool and wait to be offered an address.
Habitat builds about 55 to 60 homes a year in the Twin Cities. There are about 80 families waiting for a match in the seven-county metro area, Melton said.
“We’re definitely really interested in getting people from those communities,” Melton said of matching Cottage Grove-area families to the planned townhomes.
A Habitat homebuyer must volunteer for 300 to 500 hours of labor on their home and other projects. They also are required to attend 11 seminars discussing budgeting, home maintenance and other homeowner issues.
Habitat homeowners’ mortgage is structured with no interest and so that the payment never is higher than 30 percent of their gross monthly income when they close on the house.
Melton said Habitat homes usually are appraised at an average of $150,000, but they are sold at less than that to homeowners. Then, to avoid the home affecting surrounding home values in a neighborhood, Habitat places a second mortgage on its home that is equal to the difference of the appraised value and the sale price.