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State housing assessment to estimate Dickinson's future needs

Estimations of current and future statewide housing needs, which are tied closely to economic and population projections, can present researchers with an elusive target.

Estimations of current and future statewide housing needs, which are tied closely to economic and population projections, can present researchers with an elusive target.

That may be especially true in a state as dynamic as North Dakota has recently been, but a North Dakota Housing Finance Agency study scheduled for completion this June will attempt to provide just that in time for the upcoming legislative session.

The assessment, an update of a 2012 study for which researchers from North Dakota State University have been commissioned, will divide the state into regions and examine North Dakota’s 12 largest cities, including Dickinson, on a closer level to find statewide housing trends and forecast housing supply and demand.

NDHFA Public Affairs Director Max Wetz said Dickinson is denoted as the hub of its region within the contexts of the study and was “examined a little differently” due to oil economy influence.

“It wasn’t logical to look at births and deaths and migration rates like we did in the rest of the state,” Wetz said.

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Rather, he continued, researchers had to look at the city as a regional economic center while being mindful of the effects of oil and gas development on population estimates.

NDHFA Executive Director Jolene Kline said the assessment will also specifically study the housing needs of the state’s disabled population, as well as the needs on tribal reservations.

Kline said she wasn’t sure the agency had any preconceived notions regarding the findings of this year’s assessment but added the 2012 iteration, during the early period of the boom, had accurately projected a “steep escalation of housing needs.”

“This will tell us how many units have been developed in each area and whether or not we’ve satisfied needs in certain communities or whether there are still unmet housing needs out there,” Kline said.

Data on housing along different income brackets will also be collected, she added, which should give some direction “as to where we should be directing our resources.”

Kline said she hoped the study would determine if there was any “saturation” of housing supply within any particular income group and that employment level projections will play a key part in estimating future housing needs.

Wetz added that researchers will work with groups like the North Dakota Department of Mineral Resources to get a fuller grasp of workforce numbers. The projections within the assessment as a whole, he said, can be a valuable asset to communities as they plan for the future.

“It’s really a tool looking forward at what North Dakota will look like in the next 15 years,” Wetz said.

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The NDHFA budgeted $125,000 for the study, which will run more around $170,000.

Kline said the agency hopes to make the $45,000 remainder through sponsorships from different entities, possibly including the cities it studies.

NDHFA report could be used in city plan

Dickinson City Administrator Shawn Kessel said the information in the NDHFA report would be useful, but added the question of the city’s monetary participation in the study was up to its City Commission to decide.

Kessel said he believes he would recommend Dickinson take part, citing other city participation levels as ranging from $500 to $10,000 and guessing Dickinson would fall on the lower end of that scale.

The 2012 version of the NDHFA assessment was conducted around the same time as the city’s own comprehensive plan, Kessel said, which examined similar trends and proved “very useful” in the years since.

He added that the Dickinson-centered plan is in need of its own update and could use portions of the statewide housing needs assessment to increase cost-effectiveness.

“We’re obviously not going to get as much local information as we did in our comprehensive planning process, but we should be able to derive enough information to help us with planning and zoning and other issues moving forward,” Kessel said.

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Among the most valuable information to be possibly gleaned from the NDHFA report is the estimated population of the city down the line, a statistic Kessel said is particularly difficult to guess given the dynamism of western North Dakota.

“Anybody who could predict our population five years out and 10 years out with an accuracy level of a hundred people -- I’d pay them a $1 million tomorrow,” Kessel said. “That’s how valuable that information would be. It’s probably one of the most difficult things to do other than predicting oil prices themselves.”

More sellers than buyers

Those looking to purchase a home in Dickinson this year will likely benefit from an overturn of the supply-demand equation of years past, said Badlands Board of Realtors President Shirley Dukart.

“This is the first time in five years that we’ve got more choices, that we’ve had more sellers than buyers,” Dukart said.

The way it used to be, she continued, a prospective buyer might find only two homes in their price range. Now, there may be 10 or 15.  

Dukart said there are 261 single-family homes listed in Dickinson today. That represents a decrease of 106 from around the same point last year, according to Board of Realtors data.

As of the end of December, the most current month for which all data is recorded, the average list price for a house in Dickinson was about $289,000 -- a decrease of more than $55,000 from the average price one year earlier.

In that same time, the market’s absorption rate, a statistic that measures the time in which the total current stock of homes for sale would be purchased if no new properties entered the market, rose from 2.78 months to 7.52 months.

While the slowdown has affected the home-buying sector of the housing market, Dukart said it hasn’t disrupted things as much as it might have in the apartment and trailer home segment.

Even in cases of oilfield layoffs, Dukart said the hope of workers for a Bakken comeback and Dickinson’s appeal have kept homeowners around.

“Most of the people that were in houses have taken other jobs,” Dukart offered as explanation. “They like it here, and they know (oil) will come back.”

Related Topics: DICKINSONHOUSING
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