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Northfield faces a persistent housing crisis; both look to Kraewood Flats

Kraewood - Megan Lu

Megan Lu/The Olaf Messenger


When St. Olaf announced that student affiliate housing would be extended to Kraewood Flats for the 2024-2025 academic year, Northfield residents went to the Concerned Citizens of Northfield Minnesota Facebook Page to express their frustration and confusion in regards to the housing crisis facing the city — an issue the City of Northfield promised Kraewood would aid in alleviating. 


Kraewood Flats is an upcoming housing development set to open spring 2024, and consisting of a 106-unit apartment complex, a triplex, two twin homes, and 22 single-family homes. Since the beginning of the project, the building has been advertised as an affordable housing option for low-income residents. 


Rebound Real Estate, a developer that is responsible for seven Northfield buildings including 5th Street Lofts and Reunion restaurant, received Tax Increment Financing (TIF) — a financing method allowing developers to delay the payment of property taxes for a maximum of 26 years in exchange for them meeting certain requirements. For Kraewood Flats, the condition is that 40 percent of the units would be reserved as affordable housing for income-qualified families to rent. 


According to G&H Property Management Residential Management Lead Christine Jensen, all affordable housing units are available to those who fall under the income limits based on 60 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI) set by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The parameters are as follows: a one-person household’s annual income must be less than 40,620 dollars; a two-person household’s annual income must be less than 46,440 dollars; a three-person household’s annual income must be less than 52,260 dollars; and a four-person household’s annual income must be less than 58,020 dollars. 


Despite these qualifications for Kraewood units, housing may still be unattainable for some. The starting monthly price for a studio apartment is 1,000 dollars, a one-bedroom apartment begins at 1,200 dollars, and a two-bedroom at 1,800 dollars. Those who qualify for affordable housing would be spending around half of their yearly income on housing alone. 


“You aren’t supposed to spend more than 30 percent of your income on housing, and yet, we know for a lot of folks who are lower income, they are spending far more than that,” an anonymous community member said in an interview. 


When asked how rent prices are decided in Northfield, Community Development Director Jake Reilly ’98 said in a video interview that due to Northfield being split between Dakota County and Rice County, residents “end up with rent that kind of skews more metro.” 


Beyond the apartment complex, it is currently unknown as to whether or not the other housing options — triplex, twin homes, single family homes — are part of the affordable housing plan. There is currently no price set on those developments. 


“This housing stock was not meant as college housing, it was meant as rental housing. We don’t have enough of it in town,” a community member said. “There are some real vitriol concerns that this is going to last longer than a year.” 

In an interview with St. Olaf Chief Financial Officer Mike Berthelsen, where Director of Public Relations Kat Dodge was present, he emphasized that the College’s contract with Kraewood Flats is only a year as the College firmly believes in their residential living philosophy. 


When asked whether or not the College was aware that Kraewood was built with the promise of affordable housing for residents, Berthelsen said that the units the College has rented “don’t take away from or impact that requirement for [Rebound].” The Olaf Messenger reached out to Rebound Real Estate for an interview, but did not receive a response. 


Kraewood became the College’s top option as it had the ability to house the amount of students needed for the year, was financially feasible, and was the only option Rebound made available to St. Olaf. 


Beyond affordability, community members have raised safety concerns with college students moving into the neighborhood, especially with two elementary schools located across the street. 


“If college students aren’t aware of that, and based on my observations on some other streets with some students who live off-campus, I’m not sure that they are always cognizant of pedestrians being out and about, youth or adults, given the speed at which they are going — it’s a safety concern,” a community member said. 


On Concerned Citizens of Northfield Minnesota, more accounts of traffic safety have been cited by community members who live near St. Olaf or around college students in popular residential areas, including a near hit of a pedestrian. 


Traffic concerns were already brought up within the community prior to the College announcing the one-year lease agreement. 


Though the College has notified the City of Northfield about the expansion of affiliate housing beyond the Hill, they have yet to communicate with residents who are in the neighborhood and who are planning to move into the complex. 


“Northfield has a long history of students living in the community and in rentals,” Berthelsen said. “I think that’s part of the history and culture of the town, so I don’t think that will be a giant surprise.” 


“We are intending this summer to reach out, especially to people who live nearby in the residency area to kind of talk to them, making conversation just to make sure that they know who to contact if they have any questions,” Dodge said. “All of these plans are still up in the air of how we want to kind of address it moving forward.” 


A 2021 Northfield Housing Study Final Report by Hoisington Koegler Group Inc. anticipated the growing demand for more varied housing options among seniors and new families. Though on paper Kraewood Flats fits the bill, the cost to live in these developments may out-price residents and may not aid in minimizing Northfield’s persistent housing crisis.

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