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Minnesota should allocate bonding funds for housing

As affordable housing developers and supporters, we hear the sentiment that "bonding bills are jobs bills" echoed across the state. Housing should be added to the list of essentials in any bonding bill meant to put Minnesotans back to work.

Housing construction-related job losses have hit the state hard. From 2005 to 2009, Minnesota lost 10,000 residential construction jobs, over half of such jobs in the state. In addition to putting these workers back on the job, the state can recoup up to 50 cents on every dollar it invests in housing during the year of construction.

Equally important, investing in housing ensures that people have an affordable place to call home. At a time when record numbers of Minnesota families are experiencing homelessness, and when one in four households in Becker and Clay counties may have to sacrifice essentials such as health care to pay for the cost of housing, the need for affordable apartments and homes is clear.

In the post-housing bubble era, bonding dollars for housing and jobs will be most useful in places that the market or federal stimulus dollars do not reach readily. State investment in older neighborhoods and especially apartment buildings, where rehab costs are too high to turn a profit, can both provide homes for families and revitalize communities.

In addition:

• About 50,000 rental apartments -- public, nonprofit and for-profit owned -- need renovation and energy-saving improvements statewide.

• Public housing, which serves the state's neediest seniors and people with disabilities, has a severe backlog of repair needs;

• $5 million to $6 million is needed in Moorhead alone.

• The wait list for rent assistance is at least a year long in Detroit Lakes and throughout Becker and Clay counties.

• Housing with services for the homeless such as Gateway Gardens being constructed in Moorhead, or work-force housing in communities with jobs but little to no affordable housing, are also good investments.

While there is no magic bullet for fixing an ailing economy, state bonding money for housing should be a priority. Workers with good skills are idling, while affordable housing is sorely needed.