NEW YORK MILLS (AP) -- Inmates from the Otter Tail and Douglas County jails are helping build moderately priced housing in towns that developers might overlook.
The program is run by the Otter Tail-Wadena Community Action Council. Backed with around $1 million in financing, it now has 15 houses under construction in seven communities. By year's end, the group will have built 59 houses in 15 communities.
The group is one of several community action agencies working with the state Department of Corrections and its Institution Community Work Crew/Affordable Homes Program, which have built more than 100 homes in west-central and northwestern Minnesota since the state program began in 1998.
In addition, more than 80 homes have been renovated or repaired for low-income families and senior citizens through the programs.
State officials say the program creates a positive way for non-dangerous offenders to repay society for their crimes and learn skills that can help them become productive members of society. They also learn the value of work and work ethics.
The money for the program in Otter Tail and Wadena counties comes from the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, a loan from the Department of Corrections, and the Bremer Foundation. Money from the sale of the homes is returned to the loan pool.
Larry Barber, director of the Otter Tail-Wadena CAC Housing Program, said a carpenter supervises each crew of six inmates. There are currently three crews from Douglas County and two from Otter Tail County. The carpenter is trained to handle behavioral problems and emergency situations. If there are problems with a worker, Barber said, he's sent back to jail.
Most crew members, who are minimum security inmates, are glad to be on the job. They have to work their way up to get on the crew, doing other jobs in other industries within the corrections system, Barber said.
"We've never had anyone walk off the job," he said.
Crew members are paid up to $1.50 an hour, which is first applied to restitution owed by the inmate, and then to other expenses.
There is no shortage of requests for houses, Barber said. City governments often approach the CAC and donate lots to build on. Of 19 houses being built this year, 11 of the lots were donated by cities, Barber said.
"We lose money on some houses, and make money on others," Barber said, but added that overall the program is moving toward self-sufficiency.
Homebuyers must be at or below the 80 percent state median income ($64,500) which amounts to $51,600, to be eligible to purchase a CAC home.
On the Net:
Otter Tail-Wadena Community Action Council http://www.mncaa.org/otterwade.htm
Institution Community Work Crew/Affordable Homes Program:
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