Community leaders in the St. Cloud area gathered at St. Cloud State University on March 23 to discuss the area’s growing workforce housing shortage.
The event was hosted by St. Cloud State University’s School of Public Affairs and organized with additional support from United Way Central Minnesota, Central Minnesota Builders Association, CentraCare, St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce and Initiative Foundation.
Gaps and needs
To open the conference, event organizers asked Housing Affordability Institute to provide a look at housing gaps and needs in the community and the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) to give an update on the area’s workforce challenges.
“Workforce housing is missing middle housing,” said Nick Erickson, executive director of Housing Affordability Institute.
Erickson noted successful workforce housing strategies require taking a holistic view of the housing market, including senior housing.
“Affordable and accessible senior housing is essential to mobility in the market,” said Erickson.
The lack of housing in the region, as well as new housing costs that are out of reach for many in the area, have placed downward pressure on the market, placing more buyers into the lower price points for both existing homes and rental housing. This increase in demand, without an increase in supply, has raised housing costs.
Luke Greiner, regional analyst for central and southwestern Minnesota at DEED, highlighted that the St. Cloud region is still about 2,000 employed persons short of where the area was before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Construction, Greiner noted, is one of the stronger sectors for employment in the region. Unlike many, construction was deemed essential in the pandemic, inoculating the industry from job losses seen in other sections. Regionally, the construction industry’s real wages, wage increases after accounting for inflation, are positive, making it one of the only sectors in which employees are earning more money, even after accounting for inflation.
Community leaders, organizations and employers come together
Attendees of the event included city administrators, government agencies, large area employers, nonprofit organizations, religious organizations, students and concerned citizens.
As the event drew to a close, large employers in the region shared their thoughts. Attendees learned that the lack of adequate housing in the region has made it difficult to attract new employees to the region. The lack of affordable housing in the community has seen employees move to further-out communities in the region where housing is more affordable and accessible. These employees have traded their housing cost burden for increased transportation costs.
Event organizers and attendees resolved that action is needed and that the event must be a first step in developing a regional strategy.
“Area communities are realizing this is a high priority,” said Wanda Schroeder, executive director of Central Minnesota Builders Association. “We hope this Summit helps spur more concerted and productive conversations about how all stakeholders, including local governments and employers, can contribute to solving our urgent and growing need for affordable workforce housing.”
Coordination will be an important approach for the community as the St. Cloud area spans three counties and five cities. Collaboration between these eight government entities, community organizations, builders, developers and employers will also be necessary.
“The recipe for success has one missing piece”, added Dave Borgert, emcee and community advocate at the closing portion of the conference. “A bit of courage.”