by CHRIS ROGERS
It would have been the first subsidized affordable housing created in Winona in years, and it could still be. But, for now, a 41-unit apartment complex for low- and moderate-income Winonans failed to win funding from a state agency.
Winona has been enjoying a building boom in market-rate and luxury apartments recently, but, according to a city report this spring, there has been no progress in fulfilling the city’s need for affordable, low-income housing.
For the first time in recent history, a builder stepped in to try to meet that need earlier this year. Fond du Lac, Wis.,-based Commonwealth Development proposed constructing the Water’s Edge apartment building at 602 Mankato Avenue and applied for federal low-income housing tax credits administered by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. The Winona City Council also pledged to consider offering the project a tax break called tax increment financing — the first local financial support for affordable housing the city has offered in years.
Unfortunately, the tax credits Commonwealth Development sought are highly competitive. “Minnesota Housing receives about three to four times more requests than we’re able to fund,” Minnesota Housing Finance Agency Communications Director Jill Mazullo explained.
“It’s disappointing,” Commonwealth Development Vice President Erin Anderson said. ”It’s a very competitive process though, so it happens.”
The timing of this announcement suggests that the Water’s Edge project did not make it into the final rounds of consideration by the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency. The agency sends out notifications in the summer to projects that are eliminated from consideration during initial rounds, but the agency is still reviewing finalists for the tax credits and will not make final selections until next month, Mazullo said.
“It’s unfortunate to hear,” Winona Economic Development Specialist Nick Larson said. While the timeline for getting the project ready for Minnesota Housing was tight, he said, “By the time the application was due, we felt we had a fairly good application to send to the state.”
Sometimes developers have to apply multiple times before they win funding. The next funding round is coming up in the spring.
Anderson said her organization is interested in reapplying. “We’d like to, assuming that the seller would be willing to work with us on it again,” she said. The property’s registered owner is listed as Robert Cichanowski, of Winona.
Larson said he was approached by another developer interested in a low-income housing tax credit project in Winona. He said that depending on what the owner wants to do, Commonwealth Development could reapply for the 602 Mankato Avenue site or, potentially, another company could propose a similar project at the site.