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Board formed to battle housing crisis

Christopher Henagin wanted to have a say in how Carlton County addresses its housing crisis, and on Monday the county board granted his wish.

Henagin and three others were unanimously appointed to the oversight board of the county's first Housing Trust Fund.

"I've used real estate myself to get a leg up," Henagin, 36, said. "I was raised in poverty, and I brought myself up to middle class."

A resident of Cloquet, Henagin was once a member of the One Roof Community Housing board in Duluth.

Christopher Henagin

One Roof runs like a top in pursuit of affordable housing solutions, Henagin said.

In leaving that board for the new one, Henagin felt he could be more influential on housing matters in his home county. He also wanted to ensure the new board featured diverse representation.

"I want to make sure housing is both affordable and accessible to as many people and as diverse a population as possible," he said.

Joining Henagin on the board will be Dick Brenner, of Cloquet, who is wrapping up his final term as county commissioner, Denise Matuseski, of Moose Lake, and Cindy Pattison, of the Fond du Lac reservation. Commissioner Susan Zmyslony is also on the board, and there are two additional seats to be filled.

Board members applied to the county, and had to be recommended to the board.

The county adopted a Housing Trust Fund in January. The fund was started with $350,000 in housing support received from the state. County officials recommended a trust fund as a landing spot for future housing funds. Accessing billions of dollars in state and federal housing funds often requires a jurisdiction have a dedicated fund.

Henagin described affordable housing as a "problem solver," but not a "money maker." Thus, he said it was important to populate the board with people intent on solutions, not just power brokers who are already skilled at accessing dollars.

"I'm hoping we represent the demographic that we have in Carlton County," he said. "If we're interested in housing people with the median income, we shouldn't have an abundance of high-income housing."

The median household income in Carlton County is $68,300, according to a comprehensive housing needs analysis delivered to the county board in February. That analysis revealed housing shortages across the spectrum in Carlton County, which was short by up to 50 units of entry-level housing for new homebuyers, 350 units of affordable apartments, 60 units of workforce rentals and scores of units for seniors who desire to own, scale down or transition into settings such as assisted living.

"One Roof taught me just how overwhelming it can be to try to create affordable housing," Henagin said. "There's not one or two places you go to get financing. It's a complicated mix of tax credits, grant funding, partnerships, community, county, city and possibly state funds, and traditional bank funds all getting put together into a loan package to make these things happen."

Henagin graduated from Fond du Lac High School, and later purchased his first home in Cloquet. He now maintains that home as a rental, and it helped Henagin pay off his student debts.

"Housing and security is real," he said. "You can't be in thriving mode if you're always worried about survival."

Life savers awarded

Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake issued a handful of lifesaving awards and sheriff commendations Monday, after a host of agencies came together Dec. 29, 2023 to save the life of a truck driver.

Contributed photo

Carlton County Sheriff Kelly Lake honored a host of responders and dispatchers on Monday at the Carlton County board meeting. A county-led response on Dec. 29 last year helped save the life of trucker Michael Weinhandl, who drove off a road after suffering cardiac arrest. Among the folks appearing for the honors were Sgt. Tory Cawcutt, deputies Georgia Gates, Casey Rennquist, Tyler Ojibway, Fond du Lac officer Joe Defoe, and 911 dispatchers Samantha Aman and Melissa DeRosier-Holshouser.

Michael Weinhandl of Pillager was traveling west near Interstate 35 on Minnesota Highway 210 in Twin Lakes Township when he experienced cardiac arrest and drove his Peterbilt grain hopper across the eastbound lanes and into the ditch after losing consciousness.

The truck struck trees and a power pole.

"This is always great when we can get some recognition for the great work that all of our responders do in the county," Lake said.

Members of the Sheriff's Office, Fond du Lac Police Department, Carlton and Esko fire departments and Cloquet Area Fire District received the awards.

Carlton County Sgt. Tory Cawcutt and deputies Georgia Gates, Casey Rennquist and Tyler Ojibway were singled out for Life Saving awards, along with Fond du Lac officer Joe Defoe. Meanwhile, 911 dispatchers Samantha Aman and Melissa DeRosier-Holshouser received Sheriff's commendations, for deftly handling coordination of the response and keeping all parties up to date at a time when there was another emergency with a car in a water-filled ditch.

Sgt. Cawcutt found Weinhandl unconscious in his cab, triggering what Lake described as an efficient response that included CPR, the use of an AED, and Weinhandl ultimately being transported to Essentia Health-St. Mary's Hospital in Duluth, where he recovered.

Lake said she was proud to work alongside all the people involved in the lifesaving response.

"What you don't all know," she told commissioners, "is that things like this happen every day in our communities."

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