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Housing forum tackles lack of affordable units in ND

BISMARCK -- The trend of North Dakotans being forced to leave their homes because of skyrocketing rents and the state's lack of affordable housing --especially in oil-impacted areas --will get worse before it gets better, an attorney said Wednesd...

BISMARCK - The trend of North Dakotans being forced to leave their homes because of skyrocketing rents and the state’s lack of affordable housing -especially in oil-impacted areas -will get worse before it gets better, an attorney said Wednesday during a housing forum here.
Richard LeMay, litigation director for Legal Services of North Dakota, said the percentage of applications for legal assistance related to housing issues has increased from 20 percent before the current oil boom began in 2008 to about 60 percent today.
Evictions in Williams and Ward counties have risen sharply based on court records, LeMay said. He predicted Minot will become “the next battlefield” for affordable housing as rising rents, taxes and cost of living drive both renters and fixed-income homeowners out of Williston.
“This is not going to get better in the short term. It’s going to get worse, and there needs to be something done now, because if we wait much longer, there won’t be a lot of these people living where they have lived,” he said during Wednesday’s forum organized by the nonprofit Dakota Center for Independent Living.
The forum also brought together representatives of the state’s congressional delegation, Dickinson Mayor Dennis Johnson and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, to discuss efforts to address the housing crunch.
“We just want them to actually see a face, because all of us service providers, we’ve all been to meeting and conferences where we hear about the good stuff that’s going on in the state … but I don’t think the public really knows what’s going on,” said Royce Schultze, the nonprofit’s executive director.
A national study in February by Apartment Guide found Williston had the highest average rent in the nation. A search of available apartments in the city on apartmentguide.com Wednesday showed most rates ranging from about $1,800 to $2,000 for a one-bedroom unit to $3,000 to $4,500 for a three-bedroom unit.
Barbara Vondell, until recently a Democratic candidate for state Senate District 1 in Williston, said she had to withdraw from the race because the Williston trailer court where her elderly mother lives was purchased by an Arizona company that raised the lot rent from $300 to $850 per month, and her mom makes $721 per month in Social Security.
“There’s no way she could afford it,” she said.
Vondell said she plans to relocate her mother in April to a trailer Vondell owns in Devils Lake, where the lot rent is $250 per month.
“And that’s where we’ll be,” she said. “But there are so many stories like hers.”
Several challenges stand in the way of developing affordable housing, including the rising costs of construction material and labor, developers’ need for a return on investment and the fact it costs the same to develop as market-rate housing, said Jennifer Henderson, director of planning and housing development at the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency.
Affordable housing is defined as costing no more than 30 percent of a household’s gross income. Based on North Dakota’s median household income of $53,585, the average North Dakotan can afford to spend $1,340 per month for housing costs, according to the NDHFA.
Programs such as North Dakota’s Housing Incentive Fund -which saw $35.4 million in tax credits committed to projects in just six months this year -have helped address the shortage of affordable housing, but the need remains, Henderson said.
“The statewide need for affordable housing is going to increase,” she said.
North Dakota will need 15,870 more housing units by next year – 12,431 of them in oil-impacted areas – based on projections that the state’s population will increase from an estimated 723,393 last year to about 750,000 in 2015, she said.
Housing construction has surged with North Dakota’s strong economy and population growth. From 2010 to 2013, the number of residential housing units permitted jumped by 174 percent, from 3,833 units to 10,532 units.
The number of those units considered to be affordable housing increased by about the same percentage, from 179 to 489. All but 23 of the 489 units were in oil-impacted areas.
But unlike the rest of the state which saw overall growth in housing permits last year, the number of permitted units in oil-impacted areas dropped from 5,591 to 4,482.
“In my view, demand isn’t declining,” Dickinson Mayor Dennis Johnson said. “What is happening is cities like ours are having to say to developers, ‘You can’t go just yet. You have to wait until infrastructure catches up to you.’ ”
Tana Johnson, a case manager for homeless people in the Dickinson area, said media across the country have done a poor job of portraying North Dakota, focusing mostly on the plentiful jobs and moneymaking opportunities.
“You can come here, you can work, but to find a place to live? Good luck,” she said, adding the waiting list for low-income housing is six to 12 months.
There were some affordable housing success stories told Wednesday. Blake Strehlow, director of the Stark County Housing Authority, said support from city, county, state and federal entities made possible a 55-and-older project in Dickinson that will open with 43 units Oct. 1 with rents starting at $350 per month and $730 per month for a two-bedroom unit.
“It’s cooperation of many different agencies that are making this happen,” he said.

 

Related Topics: BISMARCKDICKINSONHOUSING
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