The Cass Clay Community Land Trust is laying the groundwork for a project to be built just south of Romkey Park — possibly including a child-care center and four to six floors of apartments to be sold as condominium units.
The proposal was introduced to the neighborhood surrounding the popular Moorhead park on Nov. 7 at an open house hosted by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. “We’re looking for what the people in the Romkey area to tell us they want and need in their area,” consultant Megan Jenson told the several dozen people who attended the event.
A second listening session is planned for Sunday, Nov. 20, at the Lakes and Prairies Community Action Agency office at 891 Belsly Boulevard. Residents may also submit their ideas in an online survey at https://tinyurl.com/romkeypark.
The Land Trust has laid out a list of possibilities for the mixed-use building, which executive director Trent Gerads emphasizes is in the most preliminary stage of planning. Services will occupy about 17,000 square feet on the ground floor of the five- to seven-story structure. At the head of the list of needed services being floated by the trust is space for Jasmin Childcare, a local nonprofit now caring for children from six weeks to 12 years old in Fargo near West Acres. Like that seven-year-old center, Jasmin’s Moorhead facility would emphasize multicultural care and education.
Other services, too, may also be located in the new building. Among the options: a community kitchen, a food pantry with 24-hour access, space for mental health counseling, access to library books and story time for children, a “maker space” for arts, music and youth programming, and facilities for classes and cultural events.
The Community Land Trust was established by the F-M Area Foundation in 2018 to help meet the need for housing that’s affordable for families with income that falls below the area’s median of $90,400 for a family of four, or $72,320 or less.
To bring home ownership into reach for those families, the trust employs an unusual approach they call the shared-equity model. It purchases the lot that the home will occupy, then builds the house or townhome, leveraging donations and grants to cover the cost. When complete, the housing unit — but not the land on which it stands — is sold to the family who will occupy it. They must obtain a mortgage in the typical manner. The Land Trust retains ownership, while the homebuyers own the home built upon it … substantially reducing the price at which it can be purchased.
When the owners eventually decide to sell their home, they retain what they originally paid plus 25% of its appreciated value. The balance of the appreciation goes back to the Land Trust, which reinvests it, perpetuating the cycle. The land itself continues to be held by the trust.
Since 2020, when Gerads was hired as its first staffer, the Community Land Trust has built and subsequently sold four townhomes and four single-family homes, including two on 18th Street South in Moorhead that are currently on the market. Another pair of twinhomes is also under construction.
Those numbers may expand dramatically in years to come. According to Gerads, the trust currently has the rights to or has purchased enough parcels of land to build another 98 housing units. That includes the two long-vacant lots south of Romkey Park at the corner of 19th Street and 10th Avenue South.
“I was familiar with this area from when I worked with the Boy Scouts. We played soccer and conducted scouting programs at Romkey Park,” Gerads says. “When I found out last summer that two good-sized empty lots on the south side were available, my board and I knew that it would be a really good area to invest in.”
Trust members were already aware of the pressing need for child care. “We started thinking,” he goes on. “Here was an opportunity to house a child-care center along with wrap-around services to support the neighborhood.” They added the prospect of condominium housing upstairs, and, he says, “it morphed into a much larger project.”
Asking the neighbors what they’d like to see is considered an essential first step. “We need to get the community behind it. To do that, we need to know what they feel they need — not come to them with our own ideas,” he adds.
The proposed Romkey facility can help meet two of the three most urgent factors in bringing people to Moorhead and the region, and in retaining them here: housing, child care and transportation. “Our community needs more workers, and this is what families of modest means require to make a life here,” he points out. “Everybody wins.”
For more information on the Community Land Trust homebuyers’ program, go to www.cassclayclt.org. You can also find the program on Facebook. The website includes a pre-qualification survey. Inquiries can also be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.