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Income-based housing slated for construction

A rental housing shortage in Dickinson may soon be alleviated with the construction of 55 subsidized housing units, slated to begin when the weather permits.

A July 8 tornado demolished a 30-unit subsidized apartment building in south Dickinson and they have yet to be rebuilt.

Dickinson's City Administrator Shawn Kessel said the apartments fell under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Section 8 Rental Voucher Program.

The Section 8 program helps more than 1.4 million households across the nation, according to HUD's Web site.

Kessel said Section 8 housing is a contract with the federal government and when a developer enters into such a contract, it is for a specific piece of land and a specific building.

The apartments cannot be rebuilt in the same location due to a few changes.

After the apartments were constructed, the land they sat on was rezoned and their reconstruction must now take place in a different location.

"It's generally very difficult to change the site and therefore change the contract midstream, and we were able to do that because of the extenuating circumstances the tornado provided," Kessel said.

Kessel said about nine years ago, give or take a year, the building was rezoned to single-family dwellings, which a new structure would not qualify.

"If they were damaged to more than 50 percent of their current value, the new buildings would have to comply with the current zoning, so those apartments did not comply with the current zoning," Kessel said.

City Commissioner Shirley Dukart said the city will purchase the lot on the south side where the apartments once stood.

The new housing units will consist of more than one site and more than one building and will be constructed on Dickinson's north side near Prairie Hills Mall, Kessel said.

MetroPlains Development LLC, based in St. Paul, Minn., is the owner of the project, he said.

"They will replace them with up to 55 units," Kessel said. "They aren't going to be apartments like the same ones. They will be more of a townhouse setting."

Kessel said the units will be built on the north side of 15th Street West, where income-based townhomes already exist.

A property across the street will also have some townhouse-like units constructed.

About three to four blocks north of 15th Street West, another set will be built, Kessel said.

Although all of the new units will be Section 8, Kessel said, Dukart said 20 of the units will be regular rentals.

"If they do not qualify for low-income, my understanding is they cannot reside in that building," Kessel said.

Sarah Mudder, communications coordinator at the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency, said the properties would be subsidized by HUD and are for limited incomes, including the elderly, disabled and single-parent home populations.

Mudder said an affordable housing study was conducted and released in 2008.

"What we were trying to show was income has not kept pace with increased housing costs and in Dickinson and western North Dakota in particular, it was obvious when it came to home buying," Mudder said.

Mudder said NDHFA is well aware of rental property shortages and the agency hopes to conduct a rental survey in early 2010.

"There is definitely some awareness at HUD that in western North Dakota, in the oil impacted areas, that rent prices have increased significantly and for lower income households it's causing problems," Mudder said.

Kessel said from what he understands, the amount of units was doubled due to the waiting list for Section 8 assistance.

"That will be a nice addition and help a lot of families in our community," Kessel said.

Calls to MetroPlains and the North Dakota HUD office went unreturned.