Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., toured Minot's temporary housing parks and residential growth areas Tuesday with officials of the City of Minot and Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Conrad emphasized that FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate has indicated to the congressional delegation that the agency's temporary housing mission will be extended from this December to June 2013.
"In our conversations with the director, we talked very specifically about the extension," he said. "He made very clear there will be an extension. Nobody needs to be concerned about it. He's absolutely given us his assurance that extension is going to be granted."
Scott Chamberlain, individual assistance branch director for FEMA, left, visits with Sen. Kent Conrad Tuesday at the Virgil Workman FEMA group site. Also escorting Conrad on the tour is Dan Jonasson, public works director, right.
The official announcement is being delayed, though, while FEMA develops a policy for transferring units to individuals or nonprofit agencies once its housing mission is complete. Conrad said FEMA is still determining fair market value of the units and what types of discounts might be appropriate to make them affordable to some buyers. FEMA has the ability to donate to nonprofit agencies but would sell to individuals, possibly on a sliding scale based on ability to pay. FEMA expects to settle on a policy soon.
"People need answers. He assured us that it would be weeks, not months," Conrad said.
Scott Chamberlain, individual assistance branch director for FEMA, said about 468 temporary housing units remain on private sites.
Thirteen families continue to live in Recovery Village on 42nd Street Northeast. That's down from a high of 125 households last winter. Chamberlain says the village should be empty by the end of the month. Residents will be moving to permanent housing, with the exception of one who will move into Virgil Workman Village, the FEMA park on 55th Street Southeast. There currently are 501 households living in Virgil Workman Village, of which 55 percent are seeking rental housing in Minot.
Chamberlain said three issues face displaced residents trying to find rental housing. Affordability of housing and lack of housing are issues, but for the third of residents who own pets, lack of housing that accepts pets compounds the problems.
City engineer Lance Meyer said that Minot is on track to permit about 1,100 new housing units this year after permitting 1,100 units last year.
Dan Jonasson, public works director, said the city is planning for $40 million in sewer and water expansion in northeast and southwest Minot, which will open thousands of acres of property for development. He estimated that acreage would create space for about 60,000 housing units, more than doubling the size of Minot if fully built out.
Chamberlain stressed that price of housing is going to determine whether FEMA residents find permanent solutions.
"Having the space is one thing," he said. "Having the affordable space is key."