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West End News: February 9

The 1982 Cook County Board of Commissioners, with the County Attorney and Auditor - Frank is far left
The 1982 Cook County Board of Commissioners, with the County Attorney and Auditor - Frank is far left

This is Bill Hansen. I’m best known for being the father of Clare Shirley, who is the normal author of the West End News, but she is on vacation this week.
 
When Clare’s grandfather, Frank Hansen, was a Cook County Commissioner back in the 1980s, I remember that much of the discussion at board meetings revolved around the shortage of housing for people who live and work in Cook County. The housing shortage was hurting economic development because people who were solidly in the middle class, like those who worked for the Forest Service, the clinic, the schools, the sheriff’s department, and so on, literally could not find an affordable place to live. At one county board meeting in that era the commissioners all agreed that the problem was so serious that it had to be addressed that year.
 
Frank, if he were alive, would have turned 95 last week and would have been delighted that the “project of the year” for 1983 was finally coming to fruition in 2017. After years of hard work by a lot of people, the first of a series of housing developments - targeted toward people who live and work here – is about become a reality. 
 
One Roof Community Housing, a non-profit housing developer based in Duluth, is planning to build 16 units of housing in Lutsen, starting construction this spring. One Roof has a long and successful track record of developing housing for working people, including hundreds of housing units in Duluth. I’ve been a supporter of One Roof for years and have been hoping they would do a project in Cook County. They are the right people for the job.
 
In an ideal world, private developers would just build houses and sell them to us for a reasonable profit and all would be well. Unfortunately, geography and market forces keep that from being a viable option here - and in many, many communities around the country. One Roof, along with an impressive list of partners, including the Cook County Economic Development Authority, the I.R.R.R.B. and the Minnesota Department of Trade and Economic Development, are finally cracking this tough nut and we will all benefit.
 
This project is not for seasonal workers. The large resorts in the West End are already housing their seasonal workers in housing they built at their own expense to the tune of millions of dollars.
 
Every piece of this housing puzzle has been fitted with the other pieces to provide well built, energy efficient, aesthetically pleasing housing that middle-income people can afford. This isn’t cheap housing by any means, but it is decent, dignified, and reasonable. I’ve been a little amused by the people who suggest that the rents are too high. Of course, the rents are too high! It would be great if those who think the rents are too high would suggest ways to lower them. Every part of this effort has been undertaken with the intent to keep rents – and costs - within reason. That is the whole point.
 
The really good news is that a similar, probably larger, project is coming soon to Grand Marais and another to Tofte. Once those are done, if there is still need - and there probably will be - projects can be done where they are needed. Thank you to all who have worked so hard to craft a real-world solution to the serious shortage of housing in Cook County!
 
It is always heart warming to see how our community rallies to solve problems and help those in need. Angela Cook, who works at the courthouse, has been dealing with very serious and costly health issues for two years. Her co-workers, the congregation at Zoar Lutheran Church in Tofte, and West End community members are holding a spaghetti dinner fundraiser at Birch Grove Community Center on Saturday, February 25, from 5 to 7 pm. There is a related raffle in progress, with many cool and valuable prizes donated by local businesses. You can buy tickets from the gals at the courthouse, at Tofte Holiday Station, and at Zoar Church.
 
As I always say about great events like this, be there, or be square.
 
For WTIP, this is Bill Hansen, filling in for Clare Shirley, with the West End News.
 

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