OTC reapplying for grant funds to support the project

Contributed photo
County officials provided a sketch of future triplexes that house one 2-bedroom unit and a pair of 1-bedroom units designated for affordable, senior housing on the three county-owned lots of the Sunny Oaks Development in Vergas.

By Robert Williams


The Vergas Economic Development Authority (EDA) / Housing Redevelopment Authority (HRA) hosted county officials to discuss Otter Tail County’s future development of a pair of senior triplexes in the Sunny Oaks development at the monthly EDA/HRA meeting on Tuesday, Nov. 7.

Attending via Zoom were: Otter Tail County (OTC) Housing and Redevelopment Authority Board Executive Director Barbara Dacy, OTC Community Development Director Amy Baldwin, OTC HRA Property Manager and Housing Supervisor Tanya Westra, along with Community and Economic Development Associates (CEDA) Community and Business Development Specialist Jordan Grossman.

Sunny Oaks is made up of 11 tax-forfeited parcels within the City of Vergas at the intersection of Eva Street and Dianne Avenue.

Earlier this year, eight of the lots were sold from the county to the Vergas Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) at the cost of $1 per lot for development of affordable housing. The remaining three lots were conveyed to the Otter Tail County HRA for the development of senior housing.

The county HRA is currently developing senior housing in New York Mills, Ottertail and Vergas, with the aid of a grant application for funding. 

Dacy gave an update on the grant applications, along with an offer to swap the three lots currently owned by the county for the three lots across Eva Street.

The county applied last summer for Housing Infrastructure bonds for two sets of triplexes in all three aforementioned communities. 

“Affordable rental senior housing is a priority of the county and there certainly is significant demand up here,” said Dacy. “We are trying to create a long-termin, reliable supply of affordable senior housing.”

The proposal consisted of four 1-bedroom units and a pair of two-bedroom units in the two triplexes.

The Vergas project is currently on hold after not receiving funds, due to a 70 percent increase in grant applications from 2022 to this year. There was a total request of $440 million with only $197 million earmarked for senior housing projects, according to Dacy.

“We did not score high enough compared to those who did, however, we learned a lot,” said Dacy. “We met with Minnesota Housing staff and they suggested a number of things to us. In general, they wanted to see more information on the engagement with seniors in each of the communities.”

Another suggestion was more input on the accessibility of the units to the downtown area and the ability to walk in the community. 

The lack of transit in smaller towns means smaller towns need to advocate for a higher “walk” score with access to amenities.

One particular piece of information that will be helpful is Ditterich Mercantile’s willingness to deliver groceries to city residents. 

Local contributions from the county and cost-sharing by any other entity will also assist in acquiring the $6 million requested for the project. 

“We do intend to apply again and are feeling optimistic,” Dacy said.

Dacy also proposed swapping the three lots on the south side of Eva Street for the three directly across the street.

“The rationale here is because of the grade of the lots on the south side, they would be more conducive to single-family walkouts that could be designed better into the side of the slope on those lots,” said Dacy.

The City of Vergas has already contributed by agreeing to not enforce payback of the assessments on the three county lots which totals roughly $75,000.

The lot swap was tabled as EDA/HRA member and lead realtor of the Sunny Oaks lots Joy Summers has potential buyers traveling from out-of-state this week to look at the properties. 

Community Development Director Amy Baldwin was supportive of the fact there are buyers for the lots and noted some flexibility in the timeline given the grant window is open until next summer. 

“It’s great that there is interest and we wouldn’t want to get in the way of moving forward,” said Baldwin. “We aren’t in a big urgency, but that’s why we wanted to bring it forward now as we learn the feedback from Minnesota Housing and as Barbara walked through, we do intend to apply for funding in the next round, which would be next July. We want to make sure we’re doing a little more site design and engagement with the local, senior population and want to be able to do that in a timely manner so we can have a better-informed application.”

Vergas EDA/HRA Vice President and city council liaison Bruce Albright has already submitted the names of potential candidates from Vergas for new, senior housing that could provide the needed information for the grant application.

“Those are the folks we want to talk to, to help demonstrate the local need and interest in this housing project,” Baldwin said.

The HRA passed a resolution to agree to the lot swap upon the completion of Summers’ buyer’s visits to the property. Should one of the lots sell, the county will reevaluate the remaining lots.