It’s still early, but interest in 11 City-owned lots so far is minimal

    If you had a dollar for every time a member of the Crookston City Council, mayor, or other City official in recent years has uttered words to the effect that the City needs to “get out of the housing business” or “stay out of the housing business,” you might have enough money to make a monthly mortgage payment.

    OK, maybe not that much money, but for years it’s been sort of a tug-of-war when council members talk about how to keep the available local housing stock refreshed by having several new homes available, for every person who has suggested that the City needs to take an active role and maybe even a lead role in making sure enough lots are bought and new homes are built each year, there’s been a retort from someone else saying the City has no business getting into the housing business, or should get out of the housing business.

    Trouble is, lots don’t seem to move with much rapidity and ground doesn’t seem to be broken all that often on too many new homes unless the City is actively involved in making either one happen.

    The most recent case in point – although activity might pick up when winter starts giving way to spring – is the 11 City-owned lots near Crookston Sports Center and on Hoven Lane that the City is working with a realtor to advertise, market and sell, at market-rate prices. Activity has been and continues to move at a snail’s pace on the lots, and it’s spurring council members to start to rethink their strategy to spur interest in the lots.

    Will the council return to an approach resembling its Barrette Estates Subdivision strategy, where more than a dozen City-owned lots were essentially given away for a $500 non-refundable deposit that could be applied toward the cost of a building permit? It’s too early to tell, but at the council’s annual strategic planning retreat on Saturday, it was apparent that council members don’t possess an abundance of patience.

    CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth said most council members agree a different strategy is necessary. But with the ongoing concern that council members and City officials don’t want to openly compete with private developers who are trying to sell their own lots at market rates – and struggling to do so for the most part – council members are leaning toward a sit-down with all existing home lot owners in town to evaluate their needs and communicate better with them.

    “I think (some council members and Mayor Wayne Melbye) are realizing we need to be in the housing business, otherwise it stops,” Hoiseth told the Times. “We’ve got to spur things forward, and market-rate (lot prices) don’t do the trick.”

    The idea, he added, is to lessen the blowback from the private sector if the council decides, once again, to take a more aggressive approach in moving the 11 lots currently on the market and incentivizing homes being constructed on them sooner rather than later.

    “Everybody knows that infill (housing) is great, but actually doing it is not that easy,” Hoiseth said.