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White Oaks Estates project lauded as help for mentally ill in region

Potential looks of the planned White Oaks Estates in Baxter. The project includes 20 apartment units and 20 town home units for low income and mentally ill residents. Courtesy image

An affordable housing project in Baxter, recently approved for construction, would help serve a housing need for individuals diagnosed with a mental illness in our region, according to Wadena County Human Services staff.

Wadena County Social Services supervisor Mike Willie shared how the development would be a benefit to the region during the regular Wadena County Board meeting Tuesday, Nov. 20. He said the county has faced a significant barrier in having affordable, available and supportive housing and this project, while in Crow Wing County, will be an option for some in Wadena County.

During the course of the next six months Central Minnesota Housing Partnership will work with

investors and funders to finish closing and funding details. In addition, they will work with

architects and construction firms regarding the final design of the facility.

Willie said this project is part of the Region 5+ Mental Health Initiative, which includes Aitkin, Morrison, Wadena, Crow Wing, Todd and Cass counties. Willie said Baxter was the selected site for this project because of the population density, making it a more likely choice for funding opportunities.

"Baxter was an area that would score better because of their population and existing housing," Willie said.

The county was notified Nov. 2 that the project was approved.

"We're excited," Willie said. "We're anticipating a construction start in 2019 and open for occupancy in 2020."

"This is such a positive accomplishment for our Region 5 Mental Health Initiative, which Wadena County is a part of," said Tanya Leskey, Human Services director.

"The overall impact should affect the individuals we serve, our community partners, workplaces and have positive implications for all involved," Willie wrote in a letter to the commissioners.

Facility facts

The project plan includes 40 units. Of those 40, 20 are income based townhomes and 20 are apartment units.

The intent is to have one side available to those in need of more intensive services and the other to be more for those just needing affordable housing. Willie said this could involve people stepping out of high structured care, looking to have more independence.

While there are 40 units, this project would provide housing for more than 40 people as some units hold multiple people. Townhomes and apartments assist families at or below 60 percent area median income. Of the 20 townhomes, 12 are two bedrooms and eight are three bedroom.

Apartments are for those diagnosed with a mental health illness and qualified for housing support.

Since this building will be in Baxter, Wadena County commissioners wondered if Wadena County residents "had dibs" on a portion of the units. That was not the case.

"You don't get to claim dibs on things anymore," Leskey said. "But it is in our area. The more we can get upstream and try to be preventive and proactive, the more cost effective it becomes."

For example, if there is low income housing available for some that need supportive housing, it may keep them from needing the highly intensive acute hospital beds, which can cost the county thousands of dollars a day.

Another perk to this project, Leskey said was the fact that it's paid for using state and federal funds, not county funds.

Leskey said this is an exciting step towards filling in identified gaps in the continuum of care for the mentally ill.

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