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Column: Duluth Chamber supports housing expansion

Three hundred of your neighbors recently gathered to begin the ambitious initiative necessary to boldly move our beloved community forward. It started with a candid discussion regarding the urgent need for additional housing in Duluth. Leaders from the Greater Minnesota Housing Fund, the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, the Duluth Housing Redevelopment Authority and the city of Duluth shared with us their ideas, their resources and their encouragement.

Together, we learned what housing projects are underway and what new projects are being proposed in Duluth. We also learned about what other communities are doing to tackle their housing shortages.

Additionally, we were provided with a comprehensive listing of every Duluth property that is available for housing development. It was a powerful experience to see what immediate opportunities exist for those who are willing to build homes in our fair city. If you are interested in building a home, or a housing development, Duluth truly is the land of opportunity.

All of this insight and encouragement occurred at the city of Duluth’s Housing Summit held at the Duluth Entertainment and Convention Center on Feb. 13. Mayor Don Ness adroitly pointed out that we must build more housing units in Duluth while this ideal opportunity is available. Interest rates are low. The demand for housing is high.

Through the collaborative leadership efforts of many, we have made great progress in creating jobs in Duluth. There have been 1,400 new job hires in recent years. Our business community is poised to offer an additional 1,500 new jobs in 2014. Individuals entering these new positions need housing options if they are to choose the Zenith City as their home.

There is a major shift occurring in our area’s workforce. Baby Boomers are retiring. Businesses are, consequently, transitioning at an unprecedented rate from older workers to 20- and 30-something workers. These younger workers are looking for a far different housing design than Duluth’s 75-year-old housing stock provides.

Half of the owner-occupied homes in Duluth were built before 1940. The pre-1940s floor plan that offers one bathroom located on the second level along with a dark, damp, chilly basement has a limited appeal for many young families. Open, accessible floor plans with multi-use rooms are in demand. Therefore, our community needs to offer many more new homes that will appeal to members of our changing workforce.

Those in attendance at the Summit also learned that developers are looking for opportunities to build multi-home developments. There are efficiencies gained through building more than one home at a time. Fortunately, we have properties available that will accommodate larger housing projects. They include: Hawk Ridge Estates, Harbor Highlands, Spirit Valley Development, Coffee Creek, Arrowhead Crossing and the Kenwood Neighborhood — to name just a few.

The Chamber’s leadership was instrumental in promoting the Housing Summit. We engaged in the effort because we are committed to assuming a leadership role in coordinating a focused community discussion to address the need for additional housing. The Summit was a powerful first step. We have a long way to go and many houses to build. Be assured, the Chamber will stay involved in this noble effort until our community’s housing needs are fully met.

If you are interested in engaging in this housing conversation, or if you have an idea for a housing project, please contact my friend Keith Hamre, the city of Duluth’s director of planning and construction. Keith can be reached at (218) 730-5297 or khamre@duluthmn.gov.

Our shining city on the hill will shine more brightly when we bring more housing options to our community.

David Ross is president and CEO of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at (218) 740-3751 or dross@duluthchamber.com

David Ross

David Ross is the president and CEO of the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. Contact him at 740-3751.

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