FERGUS FALLS -- As the overall population of Otter Tail County ages out of the workforce and with the currently limited housing available for workers, there is a projected 4.6% reduction in the labor force from 2020 to 2030.
The Big Build project is a countywide initiative from the Otter Tail County Community Development Agency to prevent this reduction. The project is a focused effort to rehabilitate and build 5,000 housing units throughout Otter Tail County by 2025.
“The Big Build isn’t just about building single-family homes,” Amy Baldwin, Community Development Director for Otter Tail County, told the Focus during an interview at her Fergus Falls office. “It’s much bigger than that.”
The Big Build project was the focus at the Dec. 4 County Housing Summit in Ottertail. Ben Winchester, Extension Educator of Community Economics at the University of Minnesota Extension, presented the project to county residents.
The purpose of the Housing Summit was not only to explain the project to the county but also to get conversations about being involved started. The summit got nonprofits and local businesses talking about what the county’s needs are as far as housing so that the next steps can be made.
The idea is to help encourage current homeowners to either move up into the next tier of housing or to build new housing opening up that lower level for first-time homebuyers -- all while attracting new workers and residents to the area by having quality housing available. Part of the plan to make this possible is a countywide opportunity for home builders to apply for a tax rebate from the county. The rebate will refund the participant up to $5,000 in county taxes or be for five years, Baldwin said.
Current residents and newcomers can qualify to get this tax rebate from the county to help offset the cost of building a new primary residence.
“The primary qualification is that it’s a primary residence, not a seasonal person whose primary residence is another area,” Baldwin said. The rebate program will courteously keep track of residence type over time.
The types of housing built will be based on the need of the county. Multi-family homes and apartment buildings can also qualify to build with this tax rebate, as long as the housing units are for a primary residence.
The other part of the project is to rehabilitate existing housing to help preserve and improve existing assets. The rehabilitation will be the county working with the property owner to do significant updates to improve the housing to make it more efficient in the long term as to quality housing.
The project is still in its early stages. Perham, like other towns in the county, has not officially approved the tax rebate program, Baldwin said.
To help make this happen, Otter Tail County is working with state, national, and regional housing programs, such as the Federal Home Loan Bank of Des Moines, Iowa, to get funding that fits the needs of the county.
“We want to tap into all of those opportunities and make sure that we are getting our fair share in Otter Tail County,” Baldwin said.