By Laura Proescholdt, cross-posted from MHP Connect
It takes dozens of dedicated people to make sure we have quality healthcare — from environmental services employees ensuring we don’t get an infection after surgery to nursing assistants who provide exceptional care, to receptionists who greet us with a smile at the front desk (despite our runny noses).
But Lakewood Health CEO Tim Rice says he’s struggling to fill key positions like these because potential employees can’t find an affordable place to live in Staples — and that’s slowing the growth of the health system.
“With lower unemployment, we used to have 20-30 people apply for a job,” Rice says. “Now, it’s almost nil. We can’t find enough people to fill our jobs. Anytime you have a gap like this in the community, it has an impact. Appropriate housing options — from rental opportunities to homeownership — are crucial for success.”
As a healthcare provider, Rice sees the health impacts of the housing gap in Staples. The more time we spend commuting, he points out, the less time we get to take care of our personal health. Rice says the numbers reinforce his point — and underscore the urgency that legislators invest now to prevent communities from incurring health-related costs down the line.
“The counties in our region have some of the lowest healthcare ratings and rankings in the state,” he explains. “Legislators have an obligation to help address health rankings, and a key element of that is ensuring housing options.
Fortunately, a recent investment by Minnesota Housing will help address a portion of the affordable housing gap in Staples. Developed and owned by Central Minnesota Housing Partnership (CMHP), The Mill Townhomes will provide 42 homes affordable to families and individuals earning $31,200-$43,300. With onsite support services, four units will serve individuals who have experienced homelessness, and another four will be home to households with disabilities.
Deanna Hemmesch, Executive Director of CMHP, says that the investment by Minnesota Housing was key to making the project a reality. “For developers, we couldn’t do it without the help of Minnesota Housing funding,” Hemmesch explains. “To build homes with affordable rent, we need that investment and that gap financing. That way, communities can ensure people have an affordable place to live near their work. That’s a big need I’m hearing from people across the state.”
Melissa Radermacher, Staples Economic Development Director, reached out to Hemmesch after a housing study underscored what many community members already sensed. “Everybody knew we needed housing,” Radermacher explains. “We just didn’t know how to prove it.”
The study showed a need for housing across the board — from affordable to market rate. “Communities need to consider housing in their economic development strategy because if you don’t have housing, businesses don’t come — and open positions at existing businesses remain unfilled,” Radermacher points out.
For example, Staples has a brand new hotel and restaurant and a new gas station. “Our new businesses are trying to attract employees, and it’s not economically feasible for people to commute to serve, bartend, or manage a front desk. But we still need people to work those jobs. And as a community, we want those amenities.”
It’s hard for Radermacher to name everything she loves about Staples — from arts and culture and growing businesses to volunteerism. “It’s a little, big town,” she jokes. “People care about each other.”
She sees the project as real progress toward addressing the need for quality, affordable homes in Staples. “Everybody deserves a quality place to live, and it’s crucial to make sure we’re investing in that, Radermacher says. “It’s important legislators understand the impact affordable homes can have on individuals, on a community, on everything — economically, personally. These projects just don’t happen without help through legislation.”