Affordable housing was on everyone's mind at a forum hosted Tuesday by the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce at Minot State University, but there don't appear to be any easy answers.
The forum drew hundreds of personnel from city, state and local government, nonprofit agencies and private housing developers who are trying to find a way to deal with the housing crisis caused by the double whammy of last summer's flood and the ongoing oil boom. Bruce Walker of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce said he hoped the forum would enable people to make connections and start working together on solutions. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., told audience members to focus on "making the programs work for the people rather than the reverse."
In some cases, the construction of low-income housing projects appears to be hamstrung by a dearth of infrastructure such as water and sewer in the areas where housing is to be built. That makes land more expensive and also makes it less inviting for developers to enter into low-income housing projects, according to experts at the meeting.
Jill Schramm/MDN • Sen. John Hoeven, Congressman Rick Berg and Gov. Jack Dalrymple, left to right, visit after a ground-breaking ceremony Tuesday for Beyond Shelter’s $6.8 million Washington Townhomes project in Minot. The first 32 of the eventual 64 units will be available by August 2013, with rents ranging from $398 to $930 a month for one- to four-bedroom units. Funding included a Community Development Block Grant of $750,000, federal HOME funds of $700,000 and Low Income Housing Tax Credits.
In others, neighbors have "not in my backyard syndrome" and object to having multi-family residences constructed in their neighborhoods, fearing noise or increased traffic or having misconceptions about the sort of people who live in low-income housing.
Nonprofit presenters, including Jessica Thomasson of Lutheran Social Services Housing, Emily Wright of the Grand Forks Housing Authority, Paul Rechlin of CommunityWorks ND, Dan Madler of Beyond Shelter Inc. of Fargo, Tom Pearson of the Minot Housing Authority and Tina Goodroad of Stantec, spoke about the importance of educating the community about the people who actually need affordable housing. The majority are working families or, in some cases, elderly or disabled on fixed incomes. The affordable housing that is built is attractive and will become an asset to communities, they said, showing pictures of such projects that have gone up in communities around the state.
Thomasson explained what a difference affordable housing can make for a family such as a hypothetical single mother working as a cashier at the local grocery store. Her hypothetical test case found an apartment at the so-called "fair market rate" for the Minot area of $686 for a two-bedroom apartment. She was able to break even each month because she also received a raise at her job and was making slightly more than $12 per hour, said Thomasson. Such a family struggling to pay the more typical rents in Minot of $1,250 or more for an apartment would not be able to make it.
City planners and non-profits are trying to deal with the financial challenges by helping subsidize the projects in some cases with grant funding or government aid or offering other incentives to developers to help offset the cost of the project.
One such project is the Washington Townhomes project in southeast Minot. A ground breaking ceremony was held Tuesday afternoon for what will be a 64-unit building that will offer affordable housing. The North Dakota Department of Commerce, in conjunction with the Souris Basin Planning Council, committed $756,000 in grant funds to help the city of Minot develop additional housing for low-income residents. The Community Development Block Grant funds are being used to purchase land for the Washington Townhomes project. The Washington Townhomes project will provide 64 low-income rental units in southeast Minot. The townhomes will be leased to renters who are at 60 percent of the area median income or below.
However, many more such units will be needed in the coming years as Minot continues to explode in population.