Workforce Housing

Stearns County has its share of challenges and opportunities to maintain its farmsteads, rural housing and manufactured home parks, while simultaneously providing housing choices for all of its residents. One of these challenges includes a growing demand for affordable workforce housing. Workforce housing is housing that meets the needs of working families and is attractive to new residents locating in rural parts of the County.

Most of the County’s 25 Manufactured Home Parks are located in the rural areas of the County. Many of these Parks are challenged with an aging housing stock, with homes built prior to the enactment of the HUD Code in 1974.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that this aging housing stock is pervasive and has tentacles reaching into other issues. For low-income rural households, the struggle to access safe, quality, affordable housing is real. Incomes are too low and housing options, both homes for purchase or rent, at affordable prices are limited.

Residents that spend more than 30% of their household income on housing costs are cost-burden. Approximately 27% of all Stearns County households pay more than 30% of their income on housing costs. Just under 20% of homeowners have a housing cost burden, while over 44% of renters have a housing cost burden.

Although housing costs are generally lower in rural communities, lower incomes and higher poverty rates make housing options simply unaffordable for many rural residents. Many of these households are faced with higher transportation costs, resulting in more money spent on transportation to travel greater distances to access work and services. Other cost-burdens may be associated with substandard housing. For example, naturally occurring affordable housing can be in extensive need of repairs to meet basic health and safety needs.

In order to sustain the long-term viability of agricultural operations in Stearns County, our communities should ensure access to quality, affordable housing to accommodate farm workers and their families. Local comprehensive plans, zoning regulations and subdivision and land development ordinances can help achieve this objective.


  1. Residential uses in the agricultural and rural areas must embrace the Comprehensive Plan’s Future Land Use Factors to minimize conflicts between adjacent land uses and natural resources.
  2. Allow workforce housing, accessory dwelling units, single-room occupancy housing, co-housing or tiny houses / apartments by right in selected zoning districts.
  3. The County will support affordable workforce housing projects following these guidelines:
    1. A portion of the project provides affordable housing units for lower-income populations.
    2. The project has embraced best practices for on-site sewage treatment systems that do not negatively impact the environment.
    3. The delivery of other public services (i.e. fire, police, public works, and public schools) have been consulted and the County is satisfied that the development can be serviced under existing or planned programming levels.
Affordable Workforce Housing Benefits:

  • Provides support for local agricultural businesses by ensuring year-round housing opportunities for their employees.
  • Conserves energy because it provides housing close to the farm workers’ place of employment, thus minimizing travel costs and fuel consumption.
  • Helps to sustain municipalities by providing stability for low-income families, while minimizing the gentrification of community.

Sustainable Building Design Practices

Sustainable design practices are used in developments to minimize impacts to the natural environment, while improving our health and quality of life. The U.S. Green Building Council is an excellent resource to learn more. Examples of these practices include:

Energy Building Practices

  • Balancing of heating and cooling distribution systems
  • Efficient hot water distribution systems
  • High efficiency appliances
  • LED lighting
  • Minimum energy performance

Sustainable Site Design Practices

  • Access to transit, schools, and community resources
  • Building orientation for passive solar
  • Compact development (e.g., clustering)
  • Floodplain avoidance
  • Impervious surfaces are minimized
  • On-site stormwater management
  • Reestablish native plants and trees
  • Rainwater management (e.g., rain gardens)

Construction Practices

  • Environmental friendly products/construction materials
  • Material efficient framing
  • Enhanced ventilation
  • Radon-resistant construction

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