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Kyle Potter, Published August 16 2013

Shortage of affordable housing in ND dominates discussion at Fargo summit

FARGO – Sen. Heidi Heitkamp hosted a summit here Friday to brainstorm how to fix what she considers one of the biggest problems in North Dakota: housing.

From a housing shortage throughout the state to the difficulty of securing home financing, and “rent prices that would make New York landlords blush,” Heitkamp and representatives from local, state and federal housing agencies bounced ideas off one another – and the roughly 40 attendees – on what needs fixing and what might do it.

The issues aren’t limited to just the oil-booming western counties, the Democratic senator said. Just as economic benefits have come with North Dakota’s new status as the No. 2 oil-producing state in the U.S., the problems have spread across the state.

“Housing is really the biggest issue facing all of these communities,” said Jasper Schneider, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural development director for North Dakota.

Michael Carbone, executive director for the North Dakota Coalition for Homeless People, said he sees a connection between the demand for workforce housing in Williston and the overflowing shelters in Grand Forks. Housing scarcity has created competition between rural workers, the homeless and people with mental health or addiction issues.

About 2,000 people were homeless in North Dakota in January 2013, according to a joint study by Carbone’s organization and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That’s up 350 percent since the oil boom started, Carbone said.

“This is an extreme challenge,” he said.

In some ways, the housing shortage has been a boon for real estate agents in North Dakota, local Realtor Scott

Breidenbach said. But it’s also made finding and buying a home a headache.

“I think we know that we’re going to have to dramatically increase the availability of housing in our state,” Heitkamp said.

Summit attendees often focused their questions on what could be done at the federal level to help out, but Carbone said officials in Washington, D.C., can only do so much.

“We need to figure out for ourselves how to fill some of those gaps,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Kyle Potter at (701) 241-5502