It’s been said on multiple occasions by current Crookston Mayor Wayne Melbye and his predecessors, as well as the current members of the Crookston City Council and those that held the seats before them. Rarely have the utterances been identical, but the general theme has been that the City of Crookston is “in the housing business” and maybe it shouldn’t be.

    The most recent time the subject came up and someone said the City should try to stay out of the housing business, a council member, or maybe it was the mayor, said that everyone probably needs to face the reality that if the City wants to keep providing enough new housing options for Crookston residents or those looking to become Crookston residents, the City is in all likelihood going to have to remain actively engaged in the “housing business.”

    But at what cost? Or, maybe more accurately, at what lack of cost?

    The City inked a one-year contract with a realtor last year to establish a price on 11 new residential lots on the north end, market those lots, sell them, and, hopefully, see homes built on them in the not-too-distant future. After much debate, the decision was made to try, at least at first, to sell the lots – three on Hoven Lane and eight on Pirate Drive – at market prices.

    We’re talking in the $20,000-plus range for one lot. The resulting interest from potential buyers? Well, if we could insert audio right here, you’d hear crickets. So the decision was subsequently made, on Hoven Lane at least, to reduce the prices to $12,000. But potential buyers weren’t beating down the door at that price-point, either.

    So the Crookston Housing & Economic Development Authority, working with the Northwest Minnesota Housing Cooperative, stepped in with an offer to essentially guarantee three homes would be build on the trio of Hoven Lane lots within three years, as long as the three lots were sold at a steep discount. Turns out, that discount was an additional $11,000 per lot, as last week the council agreed to sell all three for $1,000 each to CHEDA.

    This development comes after the City worked out a deal with developer and landowner Bob Herkenhoff along Barrette Street, where, as a result of the deal and a sweet package put together by the City, more than a dozen home lots were snatched up in relatively rapid fashion for essentially the cost of a $500 building permit fee - in other words, they were given away – and now new homes line the east side of the street.

    If this were a poker game, the City’s attempt to sell home lots at market prices would be a bluff. But the City is impatient and also not particularly adept at maintaining their poker face, so those who wouldn’t buy a lot at market price but would move on one quick and build a house if it the lot was drastically reduced in price are calling that bluff.

    But you really can’t find fault with the City or blame council members, the mayor or any other officials for what’s transpiring. Do citizens and City leaders want weeds growing on overpriced lots that, when it comes to generating a pulse of buyer interest, are essentially flatlining? Or do we want new homes being built each year, even if the downside is less money coming into the City coffers?

    The latter scenario seems preferable to the former.

– Mike Christopherson