WHITE BEAR LAKE, Minn. – In Aitkin County, housing was becoming a major problem. "Any family that wanted to buy a house had two options – buy a fixer-upper or buy a million-dollar lake home," said Ross Wagner, head of Aitkin County Economic Development.
Alison Lindburg, director of Dovetail Partner’s Eco-Affordable Housing Program, agreed. "These two options demonstrate a growing problem in Minnesota: low-to-middle-income housing is just not available to the people that live and work in these communities," she said.
Besides challenges with housing, rural communities are also often searching for economic development opportunities. One opportunity in Northern Minnesota that helps address both issues is to connect the local wood products companies with the green building movement.
Jeff Howe, president of Dovetail Partners, began discussing possibilities of a demonstration home in Aitkin County. The home would demonstrate green building principles and make use of local, certified wood products.
"We’re trying to sustain communities and the environment," Howe says. "Why shouldn’t we be able to connect affordable housing with building green, and support the community by using the local FSC-certified wood?"
The idea of green building is rapidly gaining momentum, but rural communities often get left behind as attention is focused on the needs of urban centers.
"Community leaders in rural areas are interested in energy efficiency and good building practices just as much as those in urban areas," Lindburg says. "And rural communities often have greater opportunities to use local materials that not only benefit the environment, but support local businesses and entrepreneurs."
This demonstration home in Aitkin County is Dovetail’s first eco-affordable housing project. It features in-floor radiant heating, local FSC-certified wood, locally manufactured prefabricated panels by Talor Building Systems, and various other green building practices, while remaining affordable for someone in the local community to purchase. The logs and siding used in the house have been logged and milled in Aitkin County.
The construction company, Talor Building Systems, whose mission includes an interest in eco-friendly construction, will be manufacturing the prefabricated wall, floor, and roof panels at its Aurora location. The Mille Lacs Band Corporate Commission has invested in Talor with the future intent of helping create new sustainable living wage jobs for its band members and others in the Onamia/Mille Lacs/Hinckley region.
The house will be completed and ready for open houses this fall. The McKnight Foundation, Weyerhaeuser Family Foundation, and Surdna Foundation are providing support for this project. Project financing is through Bremer Bank. Other upcoming projects are being planned for Greenbush and Warren, Minn.