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Housing: State to subsidize $3M in law enforcement housing

WILLISTON -- Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem announced Wednesday he's directing $3 million from the state's share of a lawsuit settlement to subsidize housing for law enforcement in the Oil Patch.

Stenehjem, speaking at the Bakken Housing Conference in Williston, said law enforcement agencies in the oil and gas producing counties are getting qualified applicants, but they can't afford the housing costs in those communities.

"Are we having issues with housing? Absolutely," Dickinson Police Department Capt. David Wilkie said. "The entire city is having issues with housing. Not just the public sector, but the private sector too. You bring anybody into the city right now and there's no place to live."

Inflated housing prices have some landlords charging $2,000 a month for an apartment, he said, adding a new officer is commuting three hours round trip daily from a relative's house until he can find a place to live.

The pilot program would subsidize housing costs for law enforcement, allowing them to rent a one-bedroom apartment for about $700 and a two-bedroom apartment for about $830.

"It's a real incentive, especially for recruitment," Stenehjem said.

The apartments must be in buildings that are built or renovated in conjunction with the program. The pilot project is being funded with the state's share of the Mortgage Servicer Settlement, a $25 billion multi-state settlement with U.S. mortgage lenders over alleged foreclosure abuses.

Stenehjem said the attorney general of each state has discretion about how to direct that money. He said North Dakota's share is about $3 million.

Each of the 18 oil and gas impacted counties are eligible to receive an allocation from the fund, and no single community will be eligible for more than eight units.

The housing would be built by private developers and one or two units in the building would be subsidized for law enforcement, Stenehjem said.

Jolene Kline of the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency said the goal is to direct the funds to construction projects that are already in the pipeline to make these units available soon.

Communities need to apply by June 30.

Williams County Sheriff Scott Busching said he lost three deputies in the past three weeks. Housing was a factor for at least one of the deputies, he said.

"How do I replace them without housing?" Busching said.

Dalrymple is a Forum Communications Co. reporter stationed in the Oil Patch.