In Detroit Lakes, the community development corp. has been a force for good, in big ways and small
The Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corp. has quietly made a big difference – from Detroit Lakes to Frazee to Lake Park to Perham – in a lot of little ways over the past few years.
Think the Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corp. in Detroit Lakes only tackles big projects, like the multi-million dollar renovation of the historic Graystone Hotel and Annex in Detroit Lakes?
The MMCDC has quietly made a big difference – from Detroit Lakes to Frazee to Lake Park to Perham – in a lot of little ways over the past few years. Here’s some examples, from interviews and the MMCDC website:
In Audubon, the MMCDC purchased Zephyr Estates, an 8-unit USDA Rural Development apartment building, in 2016 and worked with the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to keep the rent affordable – less than $400 for a two-bedroom apartment.
MMCDC owns well-run, well-maintained apartment units like Zephyr Estates in more places than you might realize: There’s Eastside Apartments in Lake Park; Barbara Avenue apartments, Eleventh Avenue apartments and West River Townhomes in Detroit Lakes; the Gardenview Apartments, Summerplace and New York Mills Home in New York Mills, the Graystone Annnex and Graystone Hotel apartments in Detroit Lakes; Jefferson apartments in Mahnomen; and Meadow Run and Pine Villa apartments in Menahga, among others.
In Frazee, four new homes were built on blighted property, courtesy of MMCDC.
A few years ago, Nicole Kirchner, vice president of business development, and Julia Nelmark, then-New Markets Tax Credit program director and now MMCDC president, provided $1.7 million in flexible financing to three groups providing innovative affordable housing solutions.
One of them, the Northwest Minnesota Housing Cooperative, built the Frazee homes using its “smaller homes, smaller lots, smaller price tags” concept. In 2018, the sales price on these homes averaged $50,000 less than on MMCDC’s regular home sales.
“It’s getting increasingly difficult to build housing that’s affordable for a lot of people,” Nelmark said. “We’re looking at everything and anything to keep them affordable.”
Other affordable housing developments done by the nonprofit agency include Long Bridge Heights in Detroit Lakes, and developments in Wadena and Thief River Falls.
“We are looking to do some additional housing projects in the near future,” said Nelmark. “Mahnomen and Frazee were our most recent ones.”
The consistently good work done by the MMCDC is one reason it just received a $500,000 grant from the Otto Bremer Trust. That’s on top of a $500,000 low-cost loan the year before that Otto Bremer gave to MMCDC White Earth Initiative.
Even though some of the big foundations appreciate MMCDC, the work it does sometimes flies under the local radar.
When community members came together in 2016 to form the Manna food cooperative, for instance, MMCDC helped out with technical assistance, flexible financing and referrals.
Manna is now located in downtown Detroit Lakes, and offers fresh, organic and healthy food and products, including locally produced eggs, coffee, maple syrup, wild rice, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, soaps and lotions, bread, chocolate bars, and more.
Those smaller MMCDC projects make a big difference in the lives of ordinary people.
In Park Rapids, MMCDC helped 55-year-old Donna Murphy become a homeowner for the first time.
After her rental home in Park Rapids was sold, an area lender refinanced her car loan, which helped lower her overall debt. They also connected her with MMCDC, which set her up with two affordable home loan programs, including a “soft second” loan with no immediate payment.
MMCDC also guided her into an online homebuyer education class, called Framework. She was able to negotiate a lower price for the house, and got the sellers to fix the plumbing prior to loan closing. In the end, she paid less for her monthly mortgage than she was paying in rent.
In Perham, Trisha Pickar was able to access an MMCDC loan to buy and renovate a 135-year-old brick home.
She created a one-of-a-kind kitchen in her new home. It features distressed-wood and recycled-tin cabinets from a custom cabinet-maker, salvaged stainless steel, and weathered barnwood.
Perham Housing and Redevelopment Authority also helped, with $3,000 in down-payment assistance, with zero interest and deferred payments
Again in Perham, MMCDC provided a $27,800 home renovation loan to hlp Melissa and Nick Price renovate their historic home. They gutted the home to the studs and found it structurally sound. A bathroom was added upstairs, and the stairway and landing were updated. Original wood was salvaged whenever possible, and leftover lumber was repurposed as a dining room table. And when they were done, the home was warm and cozy – no more frost inside the house in the wintertime.
Small business owners and nonprofits have also benefited from the MMCDC. Both Barber Jon’s in Detroit Lakes and the Discovery Center at the Tamarac National Wildlife Center benefited from MMCDC loans and assistance.
So it’s not just the $7.6 million loan to expand and improve the clinic and hospital in Park Rapids, or the $10.45 million loan to build a Cancer and Research Center at the Fergus Falls hospital, or even the combined $19 million in low-cost loans to Crookston’s new ice arena and Duluth’s new sports center, which includes Boys and Girls Club space.
It’s also a lot of little things for a lot of regular people that make MMCDC a force for good in the region.
“We’ve always done small projects,” said Nelmark. “Back then (in the early years), too – people just heard about the big ones.”
Since its founding over 50 years ago, the MMCDC’s bread and butter has been the federal New Markets Tax Credit Program. It has received between $30 million and $70 million in tax credit authority virtually every year to use on projects that qualify for the public good.
It’s applying for $70 million in tax credit authority next year.
Although some of the financial instruments it uses may seem complicated, the underlying MMCDC philosophy is simple. “We work at whatever is needed in the communities we serve,” Nelmark said. “We look at how to fund that and make it happen.”