Park Apartments held their 50th Anniversary Open House on Sep. 21st with 79 people in attendance. A number of figures were present to share their congrats, information on Park Apartments', their background, and mission.
John Becker, St. James HRA Board Chair, began the program describing the Park Apartments as the square block where more people live than another other square block in Watonwan County.
“Our community is a very active community,” Becker said. “This building has a lot of history, a lot of things that are ongoing and changing. It’s a work in progress everyday, and we have incredible, tremendous amount of people that put a lot of time and energy into this building.”
Becker stated decent and affordable housing is what it’s all about, studies showing affordable housing reduces stress, disease and improves both physical and mental issues.
Mayor Gary Sturm wished the Park Apartments, “a happy birthday to 50 years of a lot of changes.” The apartments opened in 1969 when Sturm was in high school. Someone asked him if he’d been born in the building. “I said no, I wasn’t,” Sturm recounted. “I wish I would have been. I wouldn’t be as old as I am.”
Park Apartments started with 70 apartments, all elderly tenants. The nature has changed to families of all ages.
“We just want to make sure that we provide affordable house for everyone that needs it, regardless of who they are,” said Sturm. “Last time I checked, we’re all created equal.”
Interim City Manager Joe McCabe went on to describe the apartments as safe housing. The process requires everyone to meet federal qualifications.
“So, we’re not bringing in individuals that have bad criminal records,” said McCabe. “That should be a comfort to the people that are living here, and we’re making an honest effort to make sure that the people that are here stay safe and healthy at all times.”
Caseworker Julie Vanzandt was present, representing Congressman Jim Hagedorn’s office as he couldn’t attend. Vanzandt explained a lot of people don’t realize the Mankato district office can help anyone who’s having problems with government agency, social security, veteran benefits, immigration, etc. She encouraged anyone to reach out as the office would be happy to help.
Jeremy Munson, State Representative of District 23B, informed the public he was a vocal advocate on the Housing Committee this year because there were a lot of changing regulations at the state level. He stated Minneapolis recently passed an ordinance that prevents property owners from conducting criminal background checks on tenants as a way to make more equity in the cities.
“So, I’m an advocate for local control,” said Munson. “I hope that working with the city and city council to put up housing ordinances that are appropriate for your community is really important.”
Melissa Wilson, Assistant Executive Director, St. James HRA, recalled Park Apartments opening their doors to families in 2001. When she started there were 18 vacancies, and now the building is full and with a waiting list.
Wilson celebrated 18 years on Sep. 4th and Executive Director Linda Boyer celebrated nine years on Sep. 27th.
“This has been the most exciting, interesting, and challenging position I have had,” said Boyer. “I do have some background in facility management. I was a teacher for a number of years, and all of those have come into play in this position.”
Also sending their congrats by letter were Tina Smith, U.S. Senate, Amy Klobuchar, U.S. Senate, and Senator Julie Rosen, Senate District 23.
All the speakers and public in attendance enjoyed a lunch inside Park Apartments after the program.