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Published September 01 2010

Housing focus of Conrad talk

The challenges facing communities in North Dakota’s oil patch played heavily in a discussion among federal officials Tuesday about community housing issues in the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states.

An influx of oil workers into western regions of North Dakota has driven up a demand for housing that local communities are struggling to match. Meanwhile, local housing costs have increased, and area residents have found it difficult to afford the price as they once could, Sen. Kent Conrad said.

Although the oil patch is a prime example, Conrad said it’s a situation he’s seen in rural communities state-wide as he’s visited 45 of the state’s 53 counties in the past two weeks.

“Everywhere I go, housing is something that’s brought to my attention by local leadership,” Conrad said, as he kicked off the 2010 Sustainable Homes and Communities Conference on Tuesday in Fargo before a crowd of more than 500 people.

“We’re in a race to provide new housing to those places that are gaining population and to maintain housing in those parts of the state that are losing population,” Conrad said.

He joined regional federal administrators from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Small Business Administration, the Federal Transit Administration and USDA Rural Development. They discussed various community housing issues and opportunities for federal aid for local projects.

HUD Regional Administrator Rick Garcia emphasized a new initiative to collaborate across multiple federal agencies in order to help communities address their housing challenges.

“Sustainable communities and housing really provide a platform for how people can improve their lives,” Garcia said. “We’re working collectively and cooperatively to make sure that we’re working toward a national agenda to make sure that we’re getting the best that we can with American taxpayer dollars.”

The three-day conference ends Thursday and features training for government and community development leaders on how they can access federal resources and funding opportunities.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541