by CHRIS ROGERS
As the city of Winona’s new Housing Task Force begins work to promote housing development, a new report ranked Winona County as number one among Minnesota counties with a highest percentage of people who spend most of their income on rent.
Winona County is tied for first place as the Minnesota county with the highest percentage of renters who pay half or more of their income toward housing — 30 percent of Winona County renters — according to a report released this month by the affordable housing advocacy group Minnesota Housing Partnership. Winona County shares the number one ranking with Blue Earth, home to Mankato and Mankato State University, and Mahnomen County on the White Earth Reservation.
The study, “The State of the State’s Housing,” also analyzed how many people — both renters and homeowners — pay 30 percent or more of their monthly income toward rent or mortgages. Winona County was the highest in the five-county area, with 25 percent of Winona County households paying 30 percent or more of their monthly income toward rent. In neighboring Wabasha, Houston, Fillmore, and Olmsted counties 20 percent, 21 percent, 21 percent, and 22 percent of households fit that category, respectively. Twenty-five percent is still better than the statewide average: 26 percent.
The Minnesota Housing Partnership reported that across Southeast Minnesota over the last 15 years, median monthly rents and the price of homes rose while median incomes for renters and homeowners fell. In Winona, median rents increased slightly between 2000 and 2015, up four percent from $585 to $608, while median income for renters fell by 19 percent from $29,382 to $23,665.
The report also found that Wabasha County was doing significantly better than Winona and surrounding counties when it came to the number of subsidized, affordable housing units available compared to the number of extremely low-income households — a family of four making less than $23,150. According to the Minnesota Housing Partnership, there are 355 extremely low-income households in Wabasha County and 265 low-income housing units, a four-to-three ratio. In Winona County, there are 2,190 extremely low-income households and 1,025 subsidized units, a more than two-to-one ratio. Locally, a city-funded 2016 study found that there are virtually no vacancies in subsidized, low-income housing in Winona.
The newly appointed Winona Housing Task Force met for the first time last month. City leaders hope the group will, in the coming months, narrow its focus, but its initial discussions were broad, spanning subsidies for starter, single-family homes; the demand for smaller homes for independent seniors; and the difficulty that professionals moving to Winona to work for Winona companies have in finding upscale housing.
Low-income housing came up, too. “We were found to be very low on subsidized housing … there’s very little affordable housing,” Winona Economic Development Director Lucy McMartin said, summarizing the city’s 2016 housing study. “That still seems to be a need with our city.”
City staff spoke about the virtue of mixed-income developments, in which subsidized and market-rate housing are combined in one development so that people from opposite ends of the economic spectrum are not segregated. City staff also discussed the potential for land trusts to enable people with modest incomes to buy homes. In a land trust, the government or another organization maintains ownership of the land a house is built on. The residents own the house and get a very long-term lease — 100 years often — on the land. Programs like this have worked in other cities to remove the cost of land from homeownership and enable more people to afford their own home, city staff said.
The task force will hold its second meeting this Thursday.