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In effort to preserve affordable houses, booming Minnesota city takes aim at 'teardowns'

Jim Buchta, Star Tribune on

Published in Home and Consumer News

Ethan Moore and Carolina Trevino Guajardo are accustomed to unsolicited mail offers to buy their 1950s rambler in Edina, Minn., where hundreds of houses have been demolished and replaced with more expensive ones.

Most of those offers land in the recycling bin. Not this spring when they received one from the city itself. It read, "Do you want to sell your house, but not for a teardown?"

The timing was perfect. The couple are moving to Maryland, so they contacted the city, which is working with a nonprofit that aims to sell some of the city's most affordable houses to lower-income buyers rather than developers.

"We'd rather see this home go to a family and not get torn down," said Moore.

With moderately priced houses on the verge of extinction, Edina's housing authority earlier this year sent thousands of unsolicited offers to owners of the most affordable houses in the city encouraging them to sell to a local nonprofit that then resells houses to working-class families for significantly less than they might otherwise pay.

"We needed to suss them out and find out who was interested in that option," said Stephanie Hawkinson, Edina's affordable housing development manager. "We needed to be more proactive."

 

The median sale price of a house in Edina during February was $540,000, an increase of more than $100,000 in just a year, according to the Minneapolis Area Realtors. Options for entry-level buyers there are scarce: Fewer than 30 properties listed on Zillow are priced at less than $300,000; all of them are one- or two-bedroom condos or townhouses.

While the Twin Cities housing market has flourished during the recession, a growing swath of would-be buyers are missing out of the lowest mortgage rates in a generation because they're getting priced out of the market.

The pandemic has only made the situation worse. With more people working and studying at home, demand for big suburban houses is on the rise and so are prices. That's forcing cities across the metro to look for new ways of creating — and preserving — options for both first-time buyers and people who already live in the community, but might want to downsize.

Edina is partnering with Homes Within Reach, a nonprofit community land trust (CLTs) that serves a dozen west metro suburbs through the West Hennepin Affordable Housing Land Trust (WHAHLT). Through an innovative ownership structure, the group hopes to sell the Not a Teardown houses for $175,000 to $220,000, depending on mortgage rates and other factors, said Brenda Lano-Wolke, executive director of Homes Within Reach/WHAHLT.

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