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Editorial: Housing study confirms Ely’s need: Now comes the hard part

A recently completed housing study commissioned by the city of Ely stated the obvious: that there’s a significant demand in Ely for rental housing.

That much has been known in local circles for quite awhile.

A lack of available, affordable housing in town has proven to be a formidable obstacle for many employers in town, who are either looking to expand or fill vacant positions.

Jobs sit empty or good candidates either turn positions down or live elsewhere because they can’t find a place to live.

Because of the housing crunch, families with children who could boost enrollment in our schools are living elsewhere, our favorite restaurants are either closing up at 8 p.m., or they’re not open at all on certain days of the week or even months at a time.

Because of the housing crunch, there are fewer workers in Ely, fewer potential shoppers and fewer taxpayers.  And that impacts the entire community.

Is housing the only hindrance in the efforts to make Ely a thriving, sustainable community? Certainly not.

The wave of a magic wand and adding 20 or 40 more housing units in Ely won’t fix everything, but housing is a major pillar in the community’s reconstruction efforts.

That’s why, despite the rather obvious result that could have been predicted before the city spent thousands of dollars, the completion of the housing study may mark a significant step forward in addressing this major issue.

Finally, there seems to be real momentum, both in Ely and beyond, toward addressing the housing gap that has stymied Ely and other Iron Range communities.

Both state and Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board dollars are being geared toward housing projects and Ely, with a “bankable” study that shows significant demand, could get a leg up on other communities hoping to develop some new housing.

For some time now, Ely’s Housing and Redevelopment Authority has explored pursuit of a new project, and the study considers the potential demand for a 22-unit rental townhome development, located behind the hospital campus.

The study finds market support for new rental housing, particularly rental housing that targets moderate-income households.

For whatever reasons, perhaps economies of scale, these projects aren’t appealing to private developers and don’t produce enough profit for an entrepreneur to take the plunge.

It’s become clear that to spur housing along and meet the current need, some government support will be needed.

Whether it’s state dollars, the IRRRB or some combination thereof, an infusion of outside money may be just enough to break the logjam and get a long-awaited housing project moving in Ely.

Discussion this week, when the Ely HRA meets at 10 a.m. at the Pioneer Apartments, may offer a glimpse of what’s yet to come.

The housing dilemma has captured the attention of key players, including Ely’s economic developer John Fedo and IRRRB commissioner Ida Rukavina, and there seems to be consensus that it’s time to get something done.

Pieces of the puzzle still need to be connected, from covering construction costs to coming up with rents that are viable for those in Ely’s workforce.

Those are important pieces, because workforce housing is the driver here.

One can’t put conditions on those who rent a market-rate unit, but the result of this project shouldn’t be retirees selling homes on Burntside to move into something smaller in town.

That will do nothing to fill the schools, help the hospital and college attract and retain employees, or result in longer hours at the Ely Steakhouse.

This helping hand of public funds needs to serve a larger purpose and address the crisis as it exists.

The lack of available and affordable housing has been recognized and prioritized. Those are two very important steps. Following through is the next and success will potentially lead to more projects and a bigger and better Ely.

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