Authored by Laura Proescholdt, Minnesota Housing Partnership, and reprinted with permission

Say you work at a school in Becker County, Minnesota. A single parent, there’s nothing you’d love more than to own a home and provide a stable place for your daughter to grow up. But for years, homeownership has felt out of reach despite working full time.

A new program may help you achieve your goal of homeownership: Home Ownership for Me (HOMe). Administered by Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation, the program provides zero-interest down payment loans to qualifying individuals and families who work in Becker County and want to live there, too. Payments on the loan are deferred until the home is sold or the term of the first mortgage is complete. The program is a “revolving fund” because funds used to repay the loan are returned to the loan pool to help another family secure a home later on.

A team of local leaders advanced the idea for the HOMe program through MHP’s Housing Institute, an 18-month program that provides capacity building to three teams as they pursue a project that positively impacts affordable housing in their respective regions.

Karen Pifher, West Community Health Program Manager at Essentia Health was one of the Housing Institute team members who worked to develop the program. “I hope that people who are in that low- to mid-income range who have never thought that homeownership is something they can experience are able to realize that dream through this program,” Pifher says.

HOMe provides loans up to $9,000 for households earning up to 80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI). Households earning up to 115 percent of State Median Income can secure a loan up to $5,500. These figures are adjusted to account for household size. For reference, 80 percent AMI for a household of four is $55,600 and 115 percent SMI for the same household size is $96,830.

Working at Essentia Health, Pifher sees the many ways in which a safe, affordable home impacts the community. “One of the things we know is that housing — affordable, stable housing — has a huge impact on health across the lifespan,” Pifher explains.

Part of Pifher’s work is to carry out a regular health assessment for the county. “The previous and current health assessment revealed that affordable housing is a top concern of people here,” Pifher explains. “We know that housing is one of the social determinants of health, so this issue is extremely important to us because healthcare interventions are not successful without safe and stable housing.”

Local employers see the need for affordable housing for staff, and they’re taking action by contributing to the program. Several employers, including Essentia Health, BTD manufacturing, and Arvig have committed funding. Becker County and the cities of Frazee and Detroit Lakes have, as well.

Denise Anderson, Frazee City Administrator (center), meets with a potential funder at a Housing Institute in 2018 with the guidance of former MHP Community Development Manager Luis Pereira (right). 

Carrie Johnston, a member of the Housing Institute team, often hears about employers struggling to fill positions due lack of affordable housing as President of the Detroit Lakes Regional Chamber of Commerce. “I know businesses who have tried to recruit employees, but struggle because people can’t find an affordable place to live in our community.”

Pifher sees that too at Essentia Health. “Our recruiters identify childcare and housing as two major barriers to filling essential roles such as Certified Nursing Assistants and front desk professionals. It’s hard to hire for these positions because they can’t find an affordable home in our area.”

Detroit Lakes is a growing community, and the lack of affordable housing puts that growth at risk. “We are an economic center for the County,” Johnston explains. “Our school district has grown 10 percent a year for the past couple of years. Our community has convened for a couple of work sessions on workforce issues and community needs. Our shortage of housing affordable to working people with low and moderate incomes continues to rise to the top as a pressing issue.”

Denise Anderson, City Administrator for the nearby community of Frazee, was another member of the Housing Institute team. She says the Housing Institute process helped the group successfully create the HOMe initiative. “The process was so enlightening,” Anderson says. “It brings together people who are dedicated and interested in housing in their area. It opens your eyes to the pressing needs in communities across our state. Once you see that and you start working with other people who are energetic, it’s amazing what you can accomplish.”

The Becker County team plans to continue meeting to implement more solutions for housing in their community.

By Marietta Rodriguez, President & CEO, NeighborWorks America

Posted with permission of NeighborWorks America. For more information, visit

Marietta Rodriguez, President & CEO, NeighborWorks America

Homeownership remains a strong aspiration for many people and remains a primary mode for wealth building for most Americans. Among the many decisions homebuyers have to make is if purchasing a home warranty makes financial sense. Weighing all the costs of homeownership can be daunting for any homebuyer, but particularly for low- to moderate-income families that are first-time buyers and learning about getting their finances in check to afford their first home (pre- and post-purchase) and counting every penny. It’s hard to know whether a home warranty is a justifiable expense. 

NeighborWorks America wants to ensure that people have the proper tools and resources so they are informed consumers from the moment they consider owning a home, and its network provides housing counselors who can educate consumers from the start of the process to the finish. 

When a person purchases a home, they often will be offered a home warranty. A home warranty is not to be confused with homeowners insurance, which covers damage caused to the home by events like fires, theft and natural disasters. A home warranty is a service contract that covers the repair or replacement costs of home appliances such as a broken furnace or dishwasher. The seller may offer to purchase a home warranty on the buyer’s behalf to address any concerns they may have, or the buyer will likely receive mail solicitations once the sale closes. A consumer could also reach out to a company to purchase a home warranty after closing. 

A home warranty can provide the peace of mind a homeowner is looking for, but they must read the fine print carefully. Not all warranties are created equal and consumers want a home warranty service that best serves their needs. They need to understand the exclusions and limitations of the home warranties they research. Some home warranty companies have overall limits, where they’ll only pay a certain dollar amount out for each repair in the home. Once that limit is hit, all of the repairs and replacements come out of your budget. Others place dollar amount limits on certain items, so the homeowner pays the rest. Some home warranty companies will also allow you to receive a cash-in-lieu option, where you simply get what the home warranty company would have paid to replace the system or appliance. Pay attention to lower-priced home warranty companies because they likely have significantly less coverage and higher limits than their higher cost counterparts.

The local community development organizations in the NeighborWorks network have found ways to help homeowners decide whether a home warranty is right for them. NeighborWorks network organization Neighborhood Housing Services of the Inland Empire (NHSIE) (San Bernadino, California) has historically purchased a home warranty for all homebuyers who have bought a home from its Acquisition Rehab and Resale Program. The organization believes home warranties allow buyers to put their mind at ease when they move into a home, knowing that any repair and replacement of many major systems or appliances that might breakdown due to normal wear and tear will be covered. In NHSIE’s Homes and Hammers post-purchase class, the instructors educate new homeowners about the benefits of a home warranty, what they might cover and how long they generally last, in addition to tips and resource for maintaining their home. 

Additionally, NeighborWorks Northeastern Pennsylvania (Scranton, Pennsylvania) highlights home warranties in its homebuyer education course and specifically when discussing what to look for in a home inspection. The organization advises the prospective buyer to ask if there has been any major work recently completed at the property (such as HVAC, plumbing, electrical, or on the roof) which may have work or materials that may be covered by a warranty; if so, they should check if the warranties are transferrable (and how). 

A home warranty typically covers most major components of large home systems, such as the HVAC (central heating ventilation air condition), hot water heaters, and plumbing. It may also cover regular appliances such as washers, dryers, refrigerators and stoves. When a covered repair is needed, consumers call their home warranty company. They can set up an appointment with a licensed service provider in their area that is covered by the plan. The consumer typically only pays the service call fee for a covered repair. 

Depending on the provider and location, a home warranty costs a few hundred dollars a year, paid up front (or in installments, if the warranty company offers a payment plan) for a policy that includes most major appliances and home systems. You can add on coverage for additional larger systems. Most home warranty terms are one year and in most cases are renewable. 

Weighing the pros and cons of purchasing a home warranty is an important step for homeowners. They need to closely read the terms and conditions of the agreement, as home warranties often include clauses addressing conditions under which coverage would be denied.

Marietta Rodriguez blog, 2/7/2019,

A home warranty has definite benefits. For a homeowner who doesn’t have emergency savings, a home warranty can protect them financially. Home warranties are also helpful for people who aren’t handy or don’t want to have to track down a contractor when a problem arises. Home warranties make sense for first-time homeowners, who may not be as familiar with how their new home’s systems work.

One major problem with a home warranty is that it will not cover items that have not been properly maintained. What is considered proper maintenance can be a significant gray area and causes many disagreements between home warranty companies and warranty holders. That’s why it’s important to read and be clear about what is covered by the warranty and what is not. When a homeowner purchases an existing home, it might come with older appliances that the previous owner may not have maintained. The manufacturer’s warranty that comes with appliances generally only covers replacement and repair for about a year.

Weighing the pros and cons of purchasing a home warranty is an important step for homeowners. They need to closely read the terms and conditions of the agreement, as home warranties often include clauses addressing conditions under which coverage would be denied. HUD-approved counselors are available at NeighborWorks organizations around the country to help consumers understand the paperwork. Making the homeownership leap is often stressful and understanding how to navigate additional budget items—like a home warranty—can reduce that burden. 

New federal laws will impact this year’s income tax filings. White Earth Tax Site staff know filers may be concerned about changes in deductions, a reformatted Form 1040, and additional tax credits.

“We will be fully prepared to walk you through that,” Tax Site Director Amanda Hanson said. “Be prepared to itemize for Minnesota taxes, particularly if you itemized in the past; Minnesota did not follow all of the federal changes, so itemizing could be to your benefit.”

Also new at the site this year is Assisted Self-Preparation. Assisted Self-Preparation is a walk-in service offered during standard hours of operation only and is available to those people who a) do not have the IRS-required documentation and b) are willing to enter information into the computer. “This uses the same software we use for tax preparation, and we can help get you through it quickly,” Hanson said. 

Volunteer preparation still requires identification. “Even if you had your taxes prepared with us last year, we need to see a Social Security card for the filers and any dependents,” she said.

The White Earth Tax Site is a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program. VITA offers quality, community-based tax services at no charge to help qualifying filers obtain the maximum tax credits allowable along with access to their full refunds. The following services will be provided in the Event Center of the Shooting Star Casino, Mahnomen, Minn., beginning Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019.

  • Free on-site tax preparation and electronic filing. Beginning Jan. 14, call MMCDC at 1-800-752-6579 during normal business hours or go to to schedule an appointment with a trained community volunteer. Filers also have the option of dropping off their tax materials at the site, and their return will be prepared and e-filed within a week.
  • Free self-preparation at
    This website allows income-qualified filers who have access to a computer and Internet connection to prepare and electronically file their own returns using free tax software.
  • Free walk-in self-preparation using a tax site computer. No appointment necessary; computer availability on a first-come, first-served basis. The tax site will be open 12-8 p.m. Monday-Thursday through March 7 in the Event Center at Shooting Star Casino; it will close Valentine’s Day and President’s Day.

To be eligible for the above taxpayer services, filers must have $60,000 annual earned income or less. There are types of income and expense on returns that the IRS does not allow volunteer preparers to complete.

Types of returns the White Earth Tax Site cannot complete include the following: businesses with employees, inventory, depreciation, businesses with more than $25,000 in expenses, rental income, Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) rental payments, employee business expenses, moving expenses, complex capital gains,
hobby income and mortgage foreclosures.

Taxpayers must bring a government-issued photo ID for filers and Social Security cards for all listed on the return. Copies are now acceptable! For more information regarding tax appointments, go to

For a quicker refund have it direct deposited by bringing the bank routing number and your account number for the tax preparer (voided check, a statement from the bank, or passbook).

This program is a service of White Earth Investment Initiative, with support from West Central Initiative; Shooting Star Casino, Hotel and Event Center; and Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation. My Free Taxes is a service of United Way Worldwide and H&R Block.

With questions or to volunteer, contact Amanda Hanson, tax site director, at 218-844-7020.

Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation has announced its Top Lender Partners for 2018. These lenders have helped provide more home mortgage loans to date in 2018 than most of MMCDC’s 54 partners throughout Minnesota:

  • Border State Bank
  • Minnesota National Bank
  • Community Development Bank
  • United Community Bank

“We enjoy working with the lenders from all of these offices,” said Kathy Misson, MMCDC Vice President, Mortgage Lending. “We usually get very favorable comments from their clients in our customer satisfaction survey due to the high quality of service they receive from their community lender as well as the valuable products we are providing. We are thankful for all of these offices and looking forward to 2019!”

Together, the above banks helped 77 customers purchase, remodel and refinance homes in small communities throughout Minnesota. Borrowers received conventional and home improvement loans as well as USDA Rural Housing Loans, which offer a low down-payment requirement and expanded qualifying ratios.

“We are pleased to partner with these trusted community banks to connect their clients with a wider range of home loan products, and assist the local banks in remaining competitive,” MMCDC President Julia Nelmark said.

MMCDC provides in-house underwriting to its bank partners, offering a shorter time to closing, and offers long-term, fixed-rate products. It has consistently ranked as one of the top 10 providers of USDA Rural Housing loans in Minnesota and received an Outstanding Housing Partner Award from the Minnesota USDA Office in 2016.

For more information contact Kathy Misson, 218-844-7015,, or Karen Larson, 218-844-7013, Or, go to

The Board of Directors of Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation announces the appointment of Julia Nelmark as company President.

Ms. Nelmark started at MMCDC in 2004 as an Investment Analyst and was promoted to Director of New Markets Tax Credit Financing. She led the deployment of $544 million of NMTC allocation across Minnesota and surrounding states, for dozens of projects ranging from $250,000 to $20 million.

Originally from Illinois, Ms. Nelmark received her bachelor’s degree from Benedictine University, where she was Accounting Major of the Year. She received her CPA certification and went on to receive a master’s of management degree from Kellogg Graduate School of Business at Northwestern University. She held a number of accounting, finance and analyst positions for Amoco Corp. and subsidiaries, and managed the budgeting – strategic planning area for Advance Transformer Company before she and her husband purchased an interest in the family dairy farm near Wolf Lake, Minn.

“I am excited to be chosen as the next leader for MMCDC. We have a strong team of people providing affordable financing, housing and other development work to communities and reservations in and around Minnesota,” Ms. Nelmark said. “I look forward to advancing our impact in new ways.”

She replaces Kevin Shipley, who will continue as special projects director during a transition period following his retirement.

“We are appreciative of Kevin’s many years of service to the company, and we look forward to a new chapter in company growth under Julia’s direction,” said Janet Green, who was reelected to the position of MMCDC Board Chairperson for 2018-2019. She represents Becker County.

Also elected as board officers were Vice Chairperson Gary Thibert, representing Red Lake County; Treasurer Jeff Haukebo, Hubbard County; and Secretary Breanna Adams, Becker/Otter Tail counties.

Lori Guenther was elected as a new board member representing Mahnomen County, replacing Karen Ahmann. Jim Dagg was elected to his first three-year term as a Pennington County representative.

Other board members include Lester Liljedahl, Clearwater County; Tara Wolff, Hubbard County; Lorna LaGue, Mahnomen County; Paul Ihle, Pennington County; David Burggraf, Eastern Polk County; and Dan Stevens, White Earth Reservation.

In 1971, MMCDC began by serving the counties of Mahnomen, Hubbard, Becker, Red Lake, Pennington, Clearwater and Eastern Polk, including the White Earth Reservation. Today, MMCDC lends and invests statewide and beyond.

Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corporation has received a $600,000 federal grant award to support community economic development in South Dakota.

“Our award will support smaller organizations that foster affordable housing, small business sustainability and quality facilities for health care, education and more,” MMCDC President Julia Nelmark said.

The White Earth Investment Initiative, an MMCDC subsidiary, received $550,000. “Our Vice President of Lending, Audra Tonihka, will help meet demand for financing capital from Native-owned businesses in Hennepin, Dakota and adjacent counties in Minnesota,” said Kevin Shipley, CEO of White Earth Investment Initiative.

MMCDC and WEII were among 302 Community Development Financial Institutions (CDFIs) receiving awards. Funds will be available for up to three years.

“The FY 2018 CDFI Program and NACA awardees will provide vital financial services and lending to low-income communities nationwide,” said CDFI Fund Director Annie Donovan in a press release. “The awards will also benefit Native Communities, areas of persistent poverty, and individuals with disabilities.”

Previous awards have helped people with limited incomes achieve homeownership, often in partnership with small lenders across the state.

MMCDC’s overall vision is to help businesses and communities succeed by providing financing and development of affordable homes and apartments. Headquartered in Detroit Lakes, Minn., it is a nonprofit company lending and investing statewide and beyond, with a special focus on rural and underserved areas.

The White Earth Investment Initiative focuses on Native American communities in Minnesota and leads the company in community-based financial education and consumer lending.

MMCDC is a chartered member of NeighborWorks America. For more information on MMCDC or WEII, go to or

MMCDC’s subsidiary, White Earth Investment Initiative, is a Native CDFI. Video shared with permission.

The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency is highlighting the transformation of the historic Ford Motor plant in Minneapolis in its new video. MMCDC provided $9.5 million in financing utilizing the federal New Markets Tax Credit. Hear MMCDC’s Julia Nelmark and others describe this major Minnesota redevelopment project as part of the video below.



(Edited for length and reprinted with permission)

More than 554,000 Minnesota households struggle to afford quality housing, a 58 percent increase since 2000

Governor Mark Dayton and members of the Governor’s Task Force on Housing have released its final report, recommending 30 action steps aimed at improving access to quality, affordable housing for Minnesotans and building a more vibrant, inclusive economic future for all Minnesotans.

“More than half-a-million Minnesotans are struggling to afford quality housing,” said Governor Dayton. “The strength of our communities and the success of our people depend on creating solutions to the many housing challenges facing Minnesota families. I am grateful to the members of this Task Force for their collaboration and hard work. The actions they have recommended offer a roadmap for connecting all Minnesotans to the safe, quality, affordable homes we need for a better Minnesota.”

30 Recommendations for Improving Access to Good, Affordable Housing

Following extensive discussion and analysis, the Task Force compiled its recommendations in a final report, More Places to Call Home: Investing in Minnesota’s Future. The report outlines how public, private, nonprofit, and neighborhood efforts can help ensure that good quality homes and strong communities remain the cornerstones of a prosperous Minnesota. In total, the report includes 30 recommendations, organized across these six goals that have the power to transform Minnesota’s housing landscape:

  • Commit to Homes as a Priority –Create a broader and stronger public commitment to the urgent need for more affordable homes for more Minnesotans.
  • Preserve the Homes We Have –Keep the homes we already have, especially those that are most affordable.
  • Build More Homes –Build 300,000 new homes by 2030, across all types, prices, and locations to stabilize prices and meet demand.
  • Increase Home Stability –Assist twice as many people at risk of losing their homes because of rent increases, evictions, and heavy cost burdens.
  • Link Homes and Services –Build stronger links between where we live and the services needed to live stable lives.
  • Support and Strengthen Homeownership –Create pathways to sustainable homeownership, with a focus on removing barriers for households of color.

To read the Task Force’s recommendations in full, CLICK HERE.