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On the market for solutions: Lakes Country Association of Realtors bands together to fight for affordable housing

Minnesota realtors gathered at the Capitol Monday to discuss housing with legislators. Submitted Photo1 / 3
The Lakes Country Association of Realtors visited the Minnesota Capitol Monday and spoke with Rep. Steve Green and Senator Paul Utke about legislation that affects housing in lakes country. Submitted Photo2 / 3
Members of the Lakes Country Association of Realtors attended Housing Day at the Capitol Monday. Submitted Photo3 / 3

Local realtors are stepping up and doing their part to ease the area's housing crisis and make the lakes area a more enticing, enjoyable place to live.

Amber Bender, president of Lakes Country Association of Realtors (LCAR), says the local association has been keeping tabs on legislation that will directly impact not only statewide housing but the housing market right in Becker County. Association members also have a plans to spruce up the area to attract buyers to lakes country.

On Monday, representatives from LCAR attended the annual Housing Day at the Capitol, an event that gathered 320 attendees and 156 legislators to discuss key issues that impact the Minnesota housing industry. Bender says she, along with LCAR President Elect Alexis Peters and LCAR Association Executive Kari Sahr, were able to meet with Representative Steve Green and Senator Paul Utke to discuss real estate and housing issues specific to the lakes area they serve as realtors.

"We just talked about some of the key issues, not just in the state but in our market. Affordable housing is huge .... Building expenses in Minnesota have skyrocketed...because of all the different regulations that are in place," said Bender.

According to some of the statistics discussed at the event, by virtually every measure, newly built homes in Minnesota cost more than comparable houses in all other Midwestern markets. Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis and Nashville markets all build between 50 percent and 80 percent of new homes at $325,000 or less. By comparison, the Minnesota region builds less than a third of its homes at $325,000 or less. Then, up to a third of a new home's price in the Minnesota region is due to regulation costs.

These prices greatly reduce housing options for middle class families and make finding affordable housing in communities extremely difficult. Often, families are forced to make other economic sacrifices to be able to afford living in the community of their choice.

One proposal at the Housing Day was to create a legislative commission on housing affordability, comprised of four Democrats and four Republicans who would ensure affordability and costs are factored into housing policy discussions and decisions on all levels of government.

The LCAR members were also able to discuss legislation that recently passed in Michigan, which made people's beachfront property public property. This bill is particularly pertinent for lakes area homeowners, and something to keep an eye on, said Bender.

"If someone wanted to, they could pull their boat up to their (Michigan) property and sit there," said Bender.

Bender says this is important because it sets a precedent, which could mean Minnesota shorefront property may one day be classified as public, if legislation to do so is ever brought to the table. The LCAR members discussed this with Green and Utke, asking them to keep their eye on any similar legislation showing up in Minnesota and asking them to vote it down.

"It was very empowering," said Bender, adding that they were proud to represent lakes country at the capitol. "We hope that our discussions with the two (legislators) help them in making our state's decisions."

The association's members have also been planning some ways to bring potential buyers to the area. First, they will be hosting an open house weekend April 6 and 7. Bender says the hope for the open house is to really showcase the housing the area has to offer, no matter what real estate agency it's listed with.

"We're trying to show people how wonderful the whole lakes area is, and this will help bring people here," said Bender, adding, "Sometimes people don't start looking for houses until an open house."

The open house will feature properties from a number of different participating agencies; the hope is to have a wide variety for people to check out when they attend the event.

"Anybody who is interested in attending, we're directing them to our Lakes Country Realtors website, and there they can click on the 'open house' tab," said Bender.

The information for the open house is listed on a number of local agencies Facebook pages, but the direct link is lakescountryrealtors.com/openhouses.htm. Currently, there are 492 houses listed for the open house.

Finally, LCAR is also planning to do their part to spiff up the area by putting out an informal survey via email and maybe even asking people in person, in order to find and fix some of the eyesores around lakes country.

"We're going to try to help beautify our local communities," said Bender, adding that they really want to build artful communities in not just Detroit Lakes but also Frazee, Audubon, Lake Park, and other surrounding towns. "There's so many artistic people in our communities, and we really want to showcase that."

A project could be anything from mentioning that a bench needs to be repainted, to painting a mural, or anything else people come up with to improve the look of the area.

Bender says they have found some grant funding they can apply for to carry out projects like this.

"Let's find out what the needs are and what the community wants to see from a group of realtors running around with paint brushes," said Bender.