Do you want us?
Do you want young professionals in your town?
Then give us a place to live.
When young people move to Worthington — presumably for a job — there is no place for us to live.
So, what do we do?
We look around for a while. Some of us give up and never actually live here. Others become desperate and take less than ideal housing.
There are a select few of us who do find a place. Some of those places are nice and give us a good experience.
For the rest of us, what kind of impression does that leave on us?
I was very fortunate. When I moved to town, I found a place. And I still live there five years later — meaning it has provided me everything I could hope for — including the occasional treats from my gracious landlord.
Not everyone is that lucky.
Throughout the course of the past few weeks, I have really engrossed myself in the housing situation. I talked to more people than I could count — both on and off the record — to find out the issues behind housing.
There is no secret here. I didn’t find out anything Earth shattering.
There is no housing.
Worthington has a zero percent vacancy rate. Sure, there are houses for sale, but that’s not always the answer.
As a younger generation, we are more mobile. We aren’t as likely to stay in one area. Worthington City Administrator Craig Clark shared a story about a presenter during a meeting he recently attended.
“They talked about the changing demographics and the age groups and what they are expecting,” Clark said. “People are going to school longer than they used to, they don’t get married as quickly as they used to. What she demonstrated, and she used several other examples, that changes the interest of individuals from buying to renting. They may be able to afford to buy a house, but they are not married, they don’t want to be tied down. It’s just a change in lifestyle and expectations.”
That’s not saying people won’t stay here. I talk to people all the time who moved to Worthington and never left. Cheryl Avenel-Navara, who is originally from New York, came to Worthington 35 years ago to work at Minnesota West Community and Technical College. Even then, there was no housing.
“I had to buy because there was nothing to rent 35 years ago,” she told me recently. “When I bought the house, they wouldn’t move. They sold the house in November and they didn’t move until the second week of January. I started my job January 3rd. I lived in a hotel with my furniture and everything in storage before I could move in.”
Cheryl stayed. So did Brad Chapulis — who works for the city and was a key contributor to my stories —and had his own housing issues. But not everyone stays.
College students struggle to find places to live, causing the loss of who knows how many students at Minnesota West.
Would those students be the difference in Worthington getting a restaurant such as Buffalo Wild Wings? I don’t know the answer to that, but it would be fun to see.
Worthington is lucky to keep the young professionals it can. How many people are leaving and becoming members of another community? Personally, I know quite a few of my friends who have moved on to other cities. Those people could be contributing to the community in a positive way right now. Instead, they have left the town in their rear-view mirror.
Is housing the only thing driving them away? Not likely. But housing — the first thing a person looks for after accepting a job — gives people a sour taste to begin with.
Like Erick Baumgart said, “When I moved to Worthington, I was frustrated about housing. I was told, ‘You’ll come to love us.’ As I’m getting more connected into the community, it would be nice to be able to put aside the stress of housing to build my foundation as a citizen here.
“I like Worthington, but I don’t have a home here yet. I don’t know where I’m going to live in a year. I would like to have that resolved so I can call Worthington my hometown. Since I know I’m not going to stay in my living situation, I’m not unpacking everything. I’m not fully unpacked yet because I still don’t know where my home is going to be. Once I get that done, I could start belonging to the community more.”
So, let me ask you again.
Do you want us?
If you do, then do something about it.
The Minnesota Housing Commissioner visited Worthington on Wednesday and I’m glad she was here. That’s not enough. We need the community to step up.
So this is my charge to you, Worthington. Let’s work together. Let’s make this a place young professionals want to be. Let’s provide nice, clean, affordable housing people can be proud of.
Let’s make this town a destination, not just a stepping stone people tell stories about years down the road.