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James MacPherson, Associated Press, Published June 21 2012

Housing fund lags in ND oil country

BISMARCK, N.D. — A fund aimed at supporting the construction of affordable housing in North Dakota's booming oil patch is coming up short, meaning hundreds of proposed units might not be built.

The North Dakota Housing Finance Agency records obtained and analyzed by The Associated Press show that only a handful of the hundreds of businesses benefiting from the oil bonanza have contributed to the housing incentive fund in exchange for tax credits.

The Legislature last year increased the amount of money to finance the credits from $4 million to $15 million. The housing finance agency's program gives individuals and businesses a dollar-for-dollar tax credit; contributions can be designated for specific projects or regions.

But more than $8.3 million is needed by the end-of-year deadline to finance the credits or several hundred units may not be built, said Sarah Mudder, a spokeswoman for the housing agency.

“Without adequate contributions, projects cannot break ground,” she said. “Projects that don't get their money could go away.”

Farmers Gary and Alvina Skogen contributed what they could to the fund aimed at building affordable housing for seniors and others.

“Some people are victims of the boom and that's what we were thinking when we designated our dollars,” said Alvina Skogen, who has seen locals driven out of western North Dakota because of skyrocketing rental and home prices due to the region's historic oil rush.

Ninety-two percent of the fund's contributors have come from “ordinary people” like the Skogens, Mudder said. The contributions from nearly 250 individuals have ranged from $100 to $150,000 and total $2.1 million, or about 32 percent of the sum raised so far, she said.

Seven financial institutions have given a total of $1.4 million to the fund, including a $1.2 million donation from Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank, records show.

Fifteen other businesses have contributed just more than $3 million to the fund, including $2.5 million from Houston-based Marathon Oil Corp. and $225,000 from Belfield-based MBI Energy Services, records show.

Ron Ness, president of the North Dakota Petroleum Council, said his group has strongly encouraged its membership to contribute to the fund.

“We have spent a lot of time and effort trying to promote this effort,” said Ness, whose group represents some 325 companies working in North Dakota's oil industry.

Ness said beyond the taxes the industry pays in North Dakota, oil-related companies in the state also have donated tens of millions of dollars to everything from day cares to hospitals to volunteer fire departments.

“The list is very long,” Ness said. “Industry is paying for a whole lot of things.”

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