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Berg visits Dickinson

Press Photo by Dain Sullivan U.S. Rep. Rick Berg, R-North Dakota, takes a break from his housing tour Tuesday to talk with Robert and Lois Kunze at their home in west Dickinson.

North Dakota Congressman Rick Berg met with Dickinson community leaders Tuesday to address housing concerns the area is facing because of an ongoing oil boom.

After touring new housing developments in west Dickinson, Berg sat down with city representatives at the Chamber of Commerce to discuss the housing crunch. He said Dickinson's lack of housing is one of a few issues he is working to improve.

"As I see in western North Dakota, we've got three big problems. We've got infrastructure problems. We've got housing problems. We've got safety issues," Berg said.

Berg, who grew up in Hettinger, said he understands Dickinson needs more housing, and he hopes more homes will bring down living costs.

"There's a tremendous demand for housing right now," he said. "Obviously, that's driving up land values, driving up rents, driving up the value of homes."

When Diana Zietz, president for the Association of Realtors in Dickinson, mentioned more affordable housing, Berg asked what she considers affordable.

"Anything under, in my opinion, $200,000 in Dickinson is a fixer-upper now days," she said, adding that people with disabilities often have the most trouble finding enough dough for a place to live.

Dickinson Mayor Dennis Johnson said residents are not the only ones burdened by the housing crunch, adding that local builders and realtors cannot work fast enough to meet demand.

"I see our realtors as being on the front line," Johnson said. "Is the oil industry going to bring us 1,000 more jobs, or are they going to bring us 10,000 or 20,000?"

Zietz agrees Dickinson is growing too rapidly for realtors to keep up.

"We don't have enough homes to sell. We can't get them put up fast enough," Zietz said. "(Buyers) want to close yesterday, and they look at the house today."

Shirley Dukart, who represented Home and Land Co. during the discussion, agrees.

"The (homes) that are being built are rented before they're even put up," Dukart said.

Some people are worried there is not enough family housing in Dickinson.

Neal Messer, a representative of Continental Real Estate in Dickinson, told Berg it is sometimes impossible for entire families to live in the area.

"When someone gets employed in the oil industry and they look at moving their family, unless they can get into a single-family home, they're not going to bring their family with," Messer said.

Community leaders also focused on the housing needs of non-oil workers, mentioning that some builders cannot put a roof over their own heads.

"The challenges (builders) run into is they can't build housing for people that build housing," said Kyle Kuntz, who represented North Dakota Association of Builders during the meeting.

Berg said leaders in Washington, D.C., do not fully understand the growth western North Dakota is facing, and he hopes lawmakers will get in tune to the needs of rural communities like Dickinson.

"(In Washington), their mentality is 'we're Wall Street bank, and we've got millions of people around,'" he said. "They have no concept of what rural North Dakota is or what community banks are. They just assume that everyone's like a Wall Street bank."

Berg added that insight from community representatives is what gets the ball rolling when it comes to accommodating Dickinson's need for housing.

"This is what really helps me (in Washington, D.C.), is when I can see things firsthand," he said. "It makes an impact. It makes a difference."