AP NEWS

North Dakota lawmakers mull bill to keep rents affordable

March 23, 2019

MINOT, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota lawmakers are considering a measure that would provide more funds to a program that uses subsidies to increase housing availability and keep rents affordable.

The Housing Incentive Fund was created in 2011 to help retain essential service workers who could no longer afford their homes due to inflation during the oil boom.

At the height of the oil boom earlier in the decade, average monthly rents spiked upward of $2,000 in Williston, a small town in northwestern North Dakota.

Oil activity has slowed down since then, but housing yet to become more attainable. Additional funding from the state will help keep rents affordable, housing authorities said.

Lawmakers are discussing whether to add $10 million or $40 million into the fund. The existing version of the proposal allows for $10 million in appropriations.

The measure passed in the Senate and is pending a committee vote in the House, the Minot Daily News reported.

“It isn’t going to meet the need out there, but it will help,” said Jolene Kline, executive director of the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency. “In the 2017 session, they made the program permanent, but they didn’t put any funding in because that was just a tough budgetary time. Now there’s an effort to put some dollars back in.”

Kline said the agency has created a little over 2,500 units since its launch. Kline noted that with $40 million in supplementary funding, the agency could create 800 more housing units across the state over the next two years.

While 62 percent of the grant has so far been focused on areas affected by the oil field, Kline said the agency also helps low- to moderate-income families elsewhere in the state.

“The Willistons, the Dickinsons, the Minots, smaller communities - Watford City - they were all having trouble recruiting essential service workers like teachers, policemen, city and county medical workers,” Kline said.

The fund awards provisional loans to developers who commit to constructing lower-rent housing in the state.

The funding program has “been extremely huge in developing our tax credit properties,” Tom Alexander of the Minot Housing Authority, said. “The Housing Incentive Fund absolutely closes the gap on the financing, so you can keep your rents affordable.”

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Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com