Home Building Activity Ticks Up in the Twin Cities

As consumer confidence and incomes rise, home building activity in the Twin Cities metro area continues to rebound. According to the Builders Association of the Twin Cities (BATC), housing construction so far this year is up 23 percent from the same period in 2012, putting builders on a track for their best year since 2007.

homes in blaine mnDuring June alone, 496 permits were issued to build 912 units. Minneapolis led the top five cities permitting 380 units. Brooklyn Park and Woodbury were in the second position with 31 units, followed by Ramsey with 29. Construction of new homes in Blaine MN, Chanhassen MN and Lakeville MN tied for fifth place with 23 units permitted each.

So far this year, builders were issued 2,379 permits to build 4,204 units, a dramatic change from this time four years ago when there were only 1,633 units.

In the south metro, Lakeville continues as the busiest homebuilding market in Dakota County and one of the metro area’s most active. The city has recorded 172 permits since the beginning of the year through the end of June, up from 107 for the same period a year ago.

In the north metro, Blaine is closing in on Coon Rapids for the title of largest city in Anoka County. It was the ...

Greening Minnesota ~ August 2011

There are some great green initiatives and events happening in Minnesota, contributing towards a cleaner environment for residents. Read about how local communities are working towards creating a more environmentally-friendly world. There are more entries than usual this month!

Prodded by a homeowner whose prairie plantings were mowed against his will, the city of Minneapolis has come up with a plan to let lawns go natural. Some suburbs have already taken the step of allowing natural plantings in place of grass, accepting their environmental benefits over the objections of some neighbors who think they look unkempt. The proposal defines the new type of landscaping as an intentional planting of native or non-native grasses, wildflowers, ferns, shrubs, trees or forbs. They're allowed to exceed the city's normal nuisance ordinance threshold of 8 inches in height, or grass that has gone or is about to go to seed. They can't include noxious weeds and have to be maintained to avoid "unintended vegetation." Unkempt turf lawns are specifically prohibited.

Organizers of the Visa Gymnastics Championships, held earlier this month in St. Paul, teamed up with Xcel Energy Center officials to exclusively power Xcel, RiverCentre and Roy Wilkins Auditorium with wind energy for four days and go paperless at what President Steve Penny called USA Gymnastics' greenest event ever.The sustainability plan also included composting in Xcel Center lobbies. Instead of paper-based programs and bio packets, the revamped USA Gymnastics mobile site fed live scoring to smartphones, tablets and LED screens. Xcel Center has already emerged as one of the country's greenest arenas. Its "50-50 in 2" program, aimed at cutting trash and increasing recycling, has reduced trash by 1.2 million pounds and raised recycling rates from 15% to more than 50% by increasing the number of recycling and composting bins.

Prodded by Hennepin County to boost its lagging recycling...

Greening Minnesota ~ May / June 2011

May and June are great for undertaking activities in the green movement. Read on to find out about how Minnesota communities are working towards creating a more environmentally-friendly world.

First of all, businesses along University Avenue could use your patronage. Construction on the light-rail track installation for the Central Corridor is taking its toll on businesses left struggling. In some cases, revenues have decreased by half as customers forgo trying to get to their favorite places due to the mess. The construction zone stretches from Emerald Avenue on the Minneapolis border to Syndicate Street N. Go have a bite to eat, have some coffee or shop at local businesses as our Twin Cities try to make more public transportation options available to residents.

Melissa Rappaport Schifman and her husband, Jim Schifman, bought a 1950s rambler on a corner lot across from Cedar Lake in Minneapolis with plans to remodel it using green methods and materials. When they discovered what it would cost to solve moisture issues in the basement, they scrapped the idea (and the house) to start from scratch. Ultimately, they built a sustainable, energy-efficient, healthy home with lower their energy consumption (and costs) and great views of the lake.

The long-awaited 4.3-mile Cedar Lake Regional Trail connecting St. Louis Park to the Mississippi River is finally complete. The last mile, through downtown, was ready May 23. The 20-year effort, spearheaded by the Cedar Lake Park Association (CLPA), produced what planners said was the nation's first federally funded bicycle "freeway." Its design, with two one-way bike lanes and a third pedestrian lane, has been reproduced for trails nationwide.

Anoka County also recently celebrated the opening of a 5-mile segment of Rice Creek North Regional Trail. The new trail segment connects the Lino Lakes Town Center with Baldwin Lake Park, through Rice Creek Chain of Lakes Park Reserve. It also connects Rice Lake...

Greening Minnesota ~ January 2011

There have been some interesting environmental development happening around the Twin Cities and Minnesota. Here are some of the community-related green news and stories that broke in January.

An in-depth survey of 3,000 households in Ramsey and Anoka counties is providing environmental researchers at the University of Minnesota insight into what it would take to get people to make more of an effort to reduce their impact on the earth. They asked about thermostat settings, number of children, cars, bedrooms, miles driven to work, lawn size and fertilizer use, even whether there were vegetarians in the house. As it turns out, most people really do care about their impact on the environment. But what really drives them to change is knowing how they rank on their own personal pollution scores, how they compare to their neighbors, and where they can improve. In the end, the researchers hope to find out how best to influence social norms and change behavior toward a more eco-friendly culture.

More U.S. consumers and developers are turning to factory-built housing for speed, quality and energy efficiency. The prefab market is positioning itself for major growth when the housing industry rebounds. Several prefab newcomers, including ZETA, Minnesota-based Hive Modular and Florida-based Cabin Fever, report healthy annual increases in the number of homes they're building. Several prefab newcomers, including Minneapolis-based Hive Modular, report healthy annual increases in the amount of homes they're building. The prefabs take 5 to 12 weeks to manufacture and 4 to 8 weeks to assemble and finish once it is delivered on site. Prices range from $200 to $250 per square foot. Several carried the Energy Star label and one earned the top, or platinum, rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. Not finding a home that you like that's also energy efficient and earth-friendly? Perhaps buying a lot and a prefab is the right way to go.

The Varney Lake stormwater retention pond...

Greening Minnesota ~ July 2010

Summer is in full swing in Minnesota. That means the news is filled with stories about our lakes, our parks, and our farmers markets. of course, all of those are topics we love to cover in Greening Minnesota.

Earlier this month, Alexandra Cousteau, granddaughter of the famous late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, visited Powderhorn Park on July 4 to promote an effort called Expedition: Blue Planet and to film a segment for it. Minneapolis was the first stop for the project’s film crew and biodiesel bus on its 14,500-mile tour across North America to investigate water issues and educate the public about water conservation. Some local organizations were there to help, too, like Blue Thumb, a clean-water program started by Rice Creek Watershed District that now has many chapters in Minnesota, and Metro Blooms, whose mission is to promote eco-friendly gardening that beautifies neighborhoods and protects the environment.

To help people recycle more when they're not at home, Ramsey County officials are setting aside $1.3 million to buy nearly 2,000 recycling bins to give to cities for use in public areas. It will be a three-phase program over three years. First, cities would put the bins in parks, along trails and in other recreational places. Second, cities would put the bins along streets. Third, the county would offer the containers to school athletic facilities. The goal is to have the same kind of container in every public park in the county. Ramsey County has already put about 400 containers in its parks and ice arenas.

A patch of grass along Nicollet Avenue past Burnsville's Civic Center campus is brown and dead for good reason: The City is turning the one-acre site into a field of native prairie grasses and wildflowers. It is the first step in the city's plan to cut maintenance costs and reduce negative impacts on the environment. Between $8,000 and $10,000 will be devoted to the project, Jacobson said, adding that it will pay for itself in seven to...

Not Ready to Buy? Then Volunteer to Build a Home

So maybe you've already bought a home. Or maybe you're not ready to buy one. Maybe you're a little uncertain about the economy, perhaps you're unemployed? Even if the federal tax credit deadline isn't tempting you to buy a house, maybe you can help build one!

When slow sales meant employees had to take some unpaid time off, manager Jim Boschuetz at Rockwell Automation in Roseville MN thought about what to do with the 4 1/2-day furlough. They decided to do something constructive. Literally. They helped work on an eight-unit townhouse complex being built in Ramsey by Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.

The building, in the 14800 block of Olivine Street, is the last of three eight-unit townhouses built in Ramsey by Habitat. The $3.2 million development, which began in 2007, is just north of Ramsey's Town Center. To buy the land, Habitat received grants of $540,000 from Anoka County and $209,214 from the federal Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program. The city chipped in $6,000.

Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity has reported a dramatic increase in attendance at its volunteer orientations, from 550 people last year to 900 this year. In fact, many organizations have seen an increase in volunteerism since the economy has taken a downturn.

The nonprofit agency sells houses with no-interest mortgages to Twin Cities families with incomes less than half of the metro median, but large enough that their monthly house payment is up to 30 percent of their income. Habitat-paid supervisors and volunteers have built 770 homes in the seven-county area since 1986.

I highly recommend reading the rest of this Star Tribune article about the home, the workers, and the community spirit that building these houses has encouraged.

If you'd like to volunteer, contact Twin Cities Habitat for Humanity.


Photo Friday - Minnesota's Lake Minnetonka

Lake Minnetonka is a 14,528-acre lake in Minnesota, located west-southwest of Minneapolis-St. Paul. The lake is an irregular shape with many bays and islands, giving it about 125 miles of shoreline. The lake has been a resort destination throughout its recorded history. Some of the cities that surround Lake Minnetonka include St. Bonifacus, Minnetrista, Mound, Spring Park, Minnetonka, Long Lake, Wayzata, Woodland, Deephaven, Shorewood,  and Excelsior.

The first known people of European descent known to have visited the lake were two teenaged boys from Fort St. Anthony, later renamed Fort Snelling. Seventeen-year-olds Joe Brown and Will Snelling found the lake in 1822 when they paddled up Minnehaha Creek.

Minnesota's territorial governor Alexander Ramsey gave the lake its name in 1852. American Indians in the area referred to it as minn-ni-tanka, which means “big water.” The first settlements were constructed around it the same year. The first hotel was built in 1853. 

In 1905, Twin City Rapid Transit first connected streetcar lines to the lake, which brought many more visitors. Soon steamboats that looked like streetcars, called Express Boats, were launched. The boats...

Community Highlights ~ Blaine MN

Blaine MN is a dynamic and active community that's seen a flurry of business and residential development within the last few years. With a population now of about 54,000, Blaine is truly a city “on the grow.”  Stretched between both Anoka and Ramsey Counties, it is in a prime location to offer great access to the greater metropolitan area of Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Blaine was named one of Money Magazine's Top 100 Places to Live in 2006, and it is easy to understand why. Blaine, MN has a wide variety of real estate and employment options for residents. The city is a well-planned mix of business, light manufacturing, commercial-retail and residential areas. Several large employers call Blaine home including Aveda, Dayton Rogers Manufacturing and the Anoka County Airport. Nine universities can be found in and near the city.

There are some great athletic, entertainment, and leisure activities available to the residents of Blaine MN. The National Sports Center is an Olympic-class training facility that provides top athletes the practice and preparation they need to perform to the best of their ability. The Schwan Super Rink in Blaine is the world's largest indoor rink and it provides children and adults with ice hockey and ice skating opportunities. For the golf enthusiast, Blaine is home to the Tournament Players Club of the Twin Cities and features a course designed by Arnold Palmer and Minnesota's Tom Lehman. There are also Brunswick Lanes bowling, Foss swimming and pool complex, and over 60 parks with trails, playing fields and courts. Finally, Blaine is in the running to become the home of the Minnesota Vikings new stadium.

From Blaine's older, established neighborhoods to recent developments, there is sure to be right house here to turn into the place you call home. From multi-million dollar mansions to empty lots of land and every possible price range and home style in between, Blaine MN real estate...

New Ramsey County Program Prepares Vacant Homes for First Time Owners

Though a lot of attention is paid to foreclosures and vacant homes in cities, suburbs can have high rates of both. With 3,000 foreclosed properties in Ramsey County last year and horror stories of rundown homes affecting area neighborhoods, a new foreclosure program is taking aim at the county's suburbs. 25 foreclosed houses in Maplewood MN and Little Canada are going to get some work done, a face lift, and the chance to be a home again.

First time home buyers do not want to deal with homes that have a lot of problems or need a lot of fixing up.  Especially since there are many perfectly good homes on the market without damage.  The Ramsey County HRA has been working to find a model to make these suburban homes more marketable. A $350,000 federal grant, plus another $1.3 million in federal stimulus dollars, is about to make that happen. The funds will be used by Ramsey County to rehab rundown homes, with the investment balanced against the price a first-time home buyer would be willing to pay.

The results is that first time home buyers are getting into fixed-up homes, neighborhoods are being stabilized, and communities are looking more appealing, which may draw even more residents. Here's how it will work:

The county will work with a developer or other intermediary to help them locate and purchase a home. The developer will hold the title to the property, but the county will hold the mortgage.

The county will pay for the repairs to make the home more marketable to first-time home buyers. In the case of the Larpenteur Avenue rambler, that meant upgrades to the plumbing, electrical and heating and cooling systems, as well as new carpets, freshly painted walls and a newly sided garage.


When a buyer steps forward, the...

More Assistance for Twin Cities Home Buyers

It was less than two weeks ago I was telling you about some recently approved, enacted, or improved home buyer programs within Minneapolis, Saint Paul, and St. Louis Park. Now I have even more to tell you about.

First, the Ramsey County Housing and Redevelopment Authority has approved the acceptance of a $1.4 million federal grant to get buyers into suburban foreclosed properties in four target areas of Maplewood and Little Canada. The money in the Opening Doors program is to be used to buy property, demolish or fix up vacant buildings and provide financial assistance to qualified first-time homebuyers. Three parts of the program include:
  • $100,000 for deferred loans for eligible buyers who purchase a property in one of the target areas. Eligible buyers will have incomes between 80 percent and 120 percent of area median income.
  • $350,000 in deferred loan financing for buyers of homes that need to be fixed up before moving in.
  • $807,000 to buy, fix and sell or rent five properties in the target areas. Once the homes are sold, the money would be used to buy, fix and sell or rent another property. The county would contract with for-profit and nonprofit developers.
The county applied for the grant, which comes from the Neighborhood Stabilization Program. The program, administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development, is a nearly $4 billion initiative, approved last year as part of the Housing and Economic Recovery Act. The Opening Doors Program isn't in effect yet because the money hasn't officially been put in the county's coffers.

Second, the Dakota County Community Development Agency has launched the Silver Lining Loan Program to help qualified buyers purchase foreclosed properties in specific areas of the county where houses stand vacant. The...