Housing decision a benefit to the county

Somewhere between 75 and 100 Ward County individuals and families will be able to be served over the course of the coming year by the Minot Housing Authority. The announcement came this past week, as finally a statistical anomaly stemming from the housing boom in the region a few years, is overcome by reasonable minds locally and in D.C.

The lower income families will receive help in affording rental housing in Ward County as the result of a federal waiver recently approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The housing authority requested the waiver to adjust the Fair Market Rent payment standards used in its housing voucher program. In October 2013, HUD increased the Fair Market Rent in Ward, Mountrail and Williams counties in response to the housing crisis created with oil activity. As the oil boom slowed, rent prices have decreased but HUD rules prevent Fair Market Rent to be less than 90 percent of the Fair Market Rent of the previous year.

With the assistance of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-ND, and HUD’s Denver office, Minot Housing Authority was able to obtain a waiver that drops the Fair Market Rent by 22 percent. Mark Austin, occupancy director for MHA, said the reduction means the amount the housing authority will pay in rent subsidies is more in line with market prices.

Minot Housing Authority did not receive additional federal dollars for housing when Fair Market Rent was increased in 2013, Austin said. Instead, the dollars available were spread over fewer families to support higher rents. The 792 families helped in 2010 fell to a low of 450. Austin said the hope is to get back to previous assistance levels in time.

Now, more people will be able to be served and the availability of service reflects a more realistic view of today’s actual market in the region.

As our local economy continues to struggle, this is good news for those in need of housing assistance.

Of course, ideally, there would be no such need and a powerful economy would provide all the needed opportunities to empower Ward County residents to thrive without government intervention. Optimism remains high for an improved local economy; and many are hopeful that the recent federal tax cut will help fuel the overall economy.

In the meantime at least, this measure will secure the local safety net.