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  • Writer's pictureamanda kiviaho

Local Grants Help OutDo Work Set the Stage for Downtown Buffalo's First Rooftop Solar

Updated: May 20


“Old places support a sound, sustainable and vibrant economy that also fulfills deeper human needs of continuity, identity, belonging, and beauty.” - Why Do Old Places Matter




If you've ever owned a historic building, you know that along with money, it takes a lot of blood, sweat, and sometimes yes, tears, to upkeep. That is why we have been incredibly grateful to take part in SMDP: (Small Cities Development Program) for our 1902 commercial building rehabilitation project.

SCDP targets historic downtown area commercial and residential projects while funds for the program are provided by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

We worked directly with Dustin Switters at the Central Minnesota Housing Partnership, Inc. to scope our project and receive grant funds for our new roof, which set the stage, so to speak, for our new solar rooftop coming June 2024.


The SCDP program is possible thanks to the City of Buffalo’s (shoutout to Messina) application and acceptance into the program. Update: Please contact the City of Buffalo for 2024 eligibility.


Side Note: We are able to increase energy independence and lower greenhouse gas emissions with rooftop solar thanks to acceptance into federal programs: Rural Energy for America (REAP) grants (Buffalo residential and commercial is eligible) and tax incentives from the Inflation Reduction Act, along with a local Buffalo Utilities Grant (will outline in another article to come).


If you are interested in solar, check out https://www.ci.buffalo.mn.us/568/Solar-Energy


Shoutout to the team at CERTs, highly knowledgable on available federal and regional solar incentive programs and steps. I'd highly recommend reaching out to them: https://www.cleanenergyresourceteams.org/contact-us.


Dustin helped us along the entire SCDP process (outlined below) and kept us on track! Again, this was for the historic building focused grant to repair our roof, needed for future solar. But this program is for many types of projects.

General steps within the program are facilitated by CMHP:

1. Initial project submission and conditional acceptance

2. Submit due diligence documents

3. Get an initial approval letter

4. Complete an inspection of the property with you to discuss the proposed project

5. Scope of Work

6. Partnering Contractors List/Contractor Selection Form

7. Conduct the bidding process

8. Complete construction documents (construction contract & repayment agreements)

9. Construction

10. Final inspection, recording documents, completion certificate.



Our original project scope included the following:

A. Reinstating a window and garage door original to the building (warehouse addition), which filled in we believe sometime in the 90s, perhaps earlier.

B. Repairing our roof nearing the end of its life to prepare for solar panel installation.


Project outcome: We completed Project B (roof repair) over the summer. Now we are moving forward with our roof-top solar project, hurrah! Project A (windows and doors) was unfortunately not SCDP grant-possible for us and we ended up paying for this project out of pocket after months of trying to secure a contractor bid.

According to feedback from contractors, the required paperwork and general grant stipulations (primarily the prevailing wage and licensed contractor requirements) of the SCDP grant program were unattractive. Combined with the skill and contractor shortage (2022) for redevelopment projects, these ‘hoops’ were simply unnecessary for most contractors to deal with unless working on a larger ($) project. Additionally, many local contractors subcontract out minor and major parts of their job, adding to the perceived cost and paperwork.

Perhaps relieving some of the grant requirements would make this more attractive to local contractors to bid on smaller projects and attract crew with a higher wage.

We ended up piecing together a few specialized contractors (demolition, garage door/window, concrete installer, which made it much more cost-effective (within our reach financially) than using a larger general contracting firm. We contracted a larger regional engineering firm to create our project plans and also asked them to bid on the project using their contractor network, but they declined and rather encouraged us to secure our own contractors (I largely assume) to keep project costs within reach.

However, for this project, we were able to utilize Buffalo's Facade Grant made possible through the Buffalo Housing & Redevelopment Authority to supplement Project A's (windows and doors) costs reimbursed after completion, and we are super grateful for the flexibility this grant provided. This grant was essential in keeping our rooftop and solar project plausible, as anyone who's worked on a commercial building knows, that costs add up fast!


For Project B, we also experienced challenges securing a roofing company due to the smaller project size (½ new roof or about 3,000 sf), but at the last minute The Bison Networking Group, which meets every Wednesday at OutDo Work, had a member on a roofing company, NexGen Exteriors, that pulled through for us.

We are grateful that this worked out, and that we were able to use the substancial Small Cities Development Program which made this roof project possible.


We also want to be clear that while it was a challenge to navigate, we fully support the idea of prevailing wages that the SCDP grant requires to support paying the workers a livable wage.

Are you interested in securing grant funds, or do you want to learn more about this program?


Read my Q&A below with Dustin Switters, Program Manager at Central Minnesota Housing Partnership who was absolutely great to work with and helped us navigate the entire program process from start to finish.


Is it possible for local people to secure this grant, or is it a one-time thing?

Dustin: We accept applications for the program on a first-come, first-serve basis. Participation is dependent on building and business eligibility. The City of Buffalo received the SCDP grant for Commercial and Owner-Occupied rehabilitation activities. We have reached our limit on commercial properties, but still have funds remaining for about 4 more Owner-Occupied home projects (as of March 2023). Eligibility for Owner-Occupied projects Is determined by location (city-determined target areas) and income. It is a one-time thing, in the sense that the City of Buffalo would have to apply for the SCDP grant again to gain funding for another round of projects.


Updated: Please contact the City of Buffalo for 2024 eligibility.

Is this the best call-to-action to contact you - or do you have a way for people to express interest in the program if not available to them, currently?

Dustin: People interested can definitely contact me by phone or email. For some additional information, our website can also be a resource (cmhp.net). In cities that are not currently administering the Small Cities Development Program, a citizen can contact their city officials to show interest and encourage them to participate in the program or participate again, as in Buffalo’s case.

We work directly with the Central Minnesota Housing Partnership, Inc. to scope our project and receive grant funds. This is made possible thanks to our city's acceptance into the program (who is responsible for this??).


Dustin: Ultimately, the city is responsible for its own acceptance into the Small Cities program. CMHP works as an administrator for the city. They come to us and we put together applications and paperwork for DEED & HUD, we guide the city through the process and also deal with the paperwork and active projects once the program is on-going. I believe CMHP’s former program manager Messina Owings was responsible for the initial leg work and the beginning of the program in Buffalo.


Do you have a commercial building that you are interested in securing grant funds for, or do you want to learn more about this program?

Dustin: There is always a possibility of a commercial building owner not using all of the funds available to them or someone dropping out of the program, but currently, all available funds are spoken for in the Commercial activity. However, as I mentioned before, we do still have funding available for a handful of Owner-Occupied homes in Buffalo, pending eligibility.

If there are any other questions or information you are curious about, please feel free to reach out. I enjoy discussing the benefits of the program.

Thanks,

Dustin Switters

Program Manager, Central Minnesota Housing Partnership, Inc.

Direct Phone: (320) 258-0681

Dswitters @ cmhp.net


Updated: Please contact the City of Buffalo for 2024 eligibility.

Amanda: Overall, while there are always turns to navigate, we think that the Small Cities Development Program and other local grant programs like the Buffalo Facade Grant are amazing assets to the community, incentivizing historic building and business owners to invest in their properties/communities for the long run—otherwise you are responsible for payback if you sell within a certain # of years—while preserving our history and promoting a sense of place.


Thank you to the City of Buffalo for applying to this program.


If you are interested in solar in Buffalo, check out Buffalo Utilities: https://www.ci.buffalo.mn.us/568/Solar-Energy.


The team at CERTs were highly knowledgable on available federal and regional solar incentive programs and steps. I'd highly recommend reaching out to them to help guide you for residential or commercial solar projects: https://www.cleanenergyresourceteams.org/contact-us and feel free to email me (amanda) at member@outdowork.com.


Read more about Why Old Places Matter, here.


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