Apex draws attention for housing project

Published 12:00 am Thursday, July 20, 2000

A week ago, the Hormel Foundation authorized a $2.

Thursday, July 20, 2000

A week ago, the Hormel Foundation authorized a $2.25 million infusion into efforts to create more affordable housing in Austin.

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This week, the project accelerated itself with the Austin City Council’s endorsement of creating a Tax Increment Financing district, where the newest housing development will be located.

On Wednesday afternoon, Apex Austin leaders basked in the spotlight of facilitating the project. That spotlight of attention has now grown to national recognition.

Apex Austin is the non-profit organization that has been given $5 million by the Hormel Foundation to address critical initiatives for the city.

Kermit Mahan, executive director of the Austin Housing and Redevelopment Authority, went to Apex Austin with the proposal and won the organization’s endorsement.

The $2.25 million is part of the $5 million challenge grant from the Hormel Foundation.

Paul Johnson told Apex Austin members Wednesday that the $2.25 million will help leverage monies needed for the project. How much money? Mahan estimates the Greater Minnesota Housing Authority could make as much as $10 million available.

The so-called Murphy’s Creek housing development in Lone Oak Addition will include 88 townhouses for rent and 21 homes for sale.

According to Johnson, a few zoning issues remain to be settled, but construction is expected to begin in June 2001.

Mahan said the project underwent a "tremendous amount of scrutiny by decision-makers to make absolutely sure this is the right thing for the city of Austin."

He credited Apex Austin co-chair Jerry A. Anfinson with bringing the parties together and said Apex Austin’s endorsement and assistance in obtaining the $2.25 million to leverage more funds enables Austin to "put our arms around an issue and bring some order to our needs."

Mahan also told the Apex Austin group, the Austin HRA will continue to look at other housing needs such as transitional housing.

"We have not turned our backs on these issues," he said.

Anfinson recently addressed a national housing conference in the Twin Cities and he said, "Rochester and Austin are the only cities in the entire United States doing anything to address affordable housing needs."

"The Austin HRA is in the forefront of handling housing needs identified at the conference," he said. "We’re not only doing housing. We’re doing all these other things, too."

With a mandate to address housing needs, Apex Austin also was charged with addressing multicultural needs in the city.

The new second- and third-shift child care center in the former Catherwood home along Fourth Street NW is another example of the organization’s priorities.

At Wednesday’s meeting in the Austin Public Library, other Apex Austin priorities were reviewed.

Joni Finnegan told the group a director of the proposed welcome center could be hired by mid-August.

Pat Ray, co-chair of Apex Austin, said several excellent candidates have applied for the job and efforts continue to seek matching funds from the city of Austin and Mower County, as well as the private sector, to fund the new service center for new residents to Austin.

Also, the services of Hector Garcia and the National Institute for Community Justice are being pursued, according to Anfinson.

Retired Hormel Foods Corp. executive Don Hodapp was credited by Anfinson with referring Garcia and the agency he represents to Apex Austin to help the city deal with cultural diversity issues.

Anfinson reminded the group, the city’s demographics are changing and said Quality Pork Processors Inc.’s work force is now comprised of 63 percent minorities while Hormel Foods Corp.’s work force has 18 percent minorities.

The figures, Anfinson said, "exemplify the large need we have in this area."

Craig Johnson, an Austin attorney, said he was impressed with Garcia and his organization’s mission, as well as the outline of a proposal made for services.

Johnson said Garcia could help "gather larger segments of the community to learn broad-based input and ideas" about helping deal with multicultural issues.

The meeting was similar to others in the short history of Apex Austin. Members reported on their various areas of expertise.

Paul Boisjolie discussed aiding Heartland Express, the city’s only public transit agency.

According to Boisjolie, Heartland Express director Kim Jensen wants to broaden the scope of the transit agency to serve more riders.

Glenn Baker said the transit agency will receive help next week fro a national agency in revising routes to better serve clients. One of the needs is a central area, where transit vehicles would arrive, much like a bus terminal, to allow riders to board another vehicle for another destination.

Margene Gunderson said there remains a great need for interpreter services, not only in the criminal justice system, but also health care.

According to Gunderson, her findings are that it isn’t only for Spanish interpreters, but for Asian and other languages.

She said it remains difficult to recruit people of color to participate in the initiatives being undertaken on their behalf.

Having people of color more involved would, Gunderson said, "strength Apex Austin and tell us, lead us and help us identify things to do."

Austin Police Chief Paul M. Philipp is interested in any language courses for the department’s officers that would aid them in communicating with non-English speaking subjects they encounter, according to Gunderson.

Also, Gunderson said an early survey of the makeup of minority households indicates there may not be as many families of color, but "many, many single males of colors."

That observation was borne out by George Brophy’s comments.

Brophy said QPP has a work force of about 1,000 employees, including 63 percent which are Latino, as well as other minorities.

According to Brophy’s source, two-thirds of the 63 percent are single person.

He also said demographic studies apply 4.5 people to Latino households where there are two parents.

If one third of the QPP work force is a head of household, that figure, 220, multiplied times 4.5, indicates a total of over 880 Hispanics, plus the 630 QPP workers labeled single adults.

"But," Brophy added, "those figures change markedly week to week," in making a point about trying to survey the minority population and trying to recruit those members who make Austin their permanent residence and want to participate in the multicultural initiatives.

Ray said the Parenting Resource Center of Mower County routinely attempts to invite minority mothers to meetings. Because, the minority mothers are most often charged with the responsibility of caring for their children, they do not attend the meetings, because bringing their children would be a distraction to the discussions.

Apex Austin’s Craig Johnson said it was imperative to involve minorities in discussions dealing with issues that directly affect their lives and that the minorities share responsibility for a healthy back-and-forth dialog on issues of cultural sensitivity.

"If they want trust, they have to be involved in the process," he said.

Ray said one of the organization’s goals must be to encourage "emerging leadership" among minorities.