Committee recommends selling acquired homes

The Community Development Block Grant committee took another step forward in the process of home acquisitions in Ward County at its Wednesday morning meeting.

At issue was the question of what to do with acquired properties in the county near the Souris River. The homes and other structures on those properties have to make way for an eventual flood protection project, and the three options discussed were demolishing the homes, selling them for relocation to another site or salvaging materials from the inside before demolition and removal.

“This committee will make a decision and then it will go to the full (Ward County) Commission next week,” said Amanda Schooling, county emergency manager.

Not all homes will have all disposal options available for them. Each property must be inspected for friable asbestos, no matter how new it is, and the appropriate abatement measures taken if any is found.

Friable asbestos is any asbestos-containing material that, when dry, can be easily crumbled or pulverized into a powder form by hand. All friable asbestos found in any of the structures must be abated before anything else is done, whether that be selling, salvaging or demolishing.

Of the homes inspected so far, 15 have been found to be asbestos-free and can be sold, salvaged or demolished. That number could rise in the future as more acquired homes are inspected and asbestos is abated from other homes.

Should the county decide to sell what homes it can, the money gained wouldn’t exactly be significant. A blind bidding process would be used, with the highest bid winning the home. However, a site that is already prepared for a home would be needed, and the moving costs would not be inconsiderable. For those reasons, most homes will probably only receive bids in the $5,000 to $6,000 range.

On top of that, 75 percent of the sale price would go to the State Water Commission, further reducing the county’s return.

While that wouldn’t be a great sum, another factor the committee took into consideration was the housing crunch still facing the area. Nancy Whitten, a project manager for CDM-Smith, which is helping Ward County with the home acquisition process, said several of the homes had extensive remodeling done on them prior to being bought out, and it would be a shame to throw them away into a landfill when people in the area still can’t find an affordable house to buy.

“I feel like, from knowing there is a housing shortage here, that it may be in the county’s best interest to appear that you guys are trying to help relieve that and make these houses available versus us just demolishing houses that are in really good shape, and people know that they spent $50,000, $60,000 to refurbish these houses but decided to take the buyout,” Whitten said. “And we are wadding that up and taking it to a landfill. That’s my opinion.”

Another option discussed was allowing nonprofit organizations to salvage what they could from the homes before they are demolished.

Whitten said she knows of several nonprofits that will be building homes this spring, and the material salvaged from those homes would be of great benefit to them.

“There are plenty (nonprofits) here in town,” Whitten said. “They are skilled and they know how to salvage these properties.”

“We don’t want that stuff to go in our landfill if it doesn’t have to,” she added.

Some of the items she mentioned as salvageable are light fixtures, doors, cabinets, and windows, as well as new air conditioning units and furnaces.

Of the three options – selling, salvaging or demolition – the committee members were in favor of selling what homes they could first, then allowing nonprofits to salvage what they could next, and finally demolishing the remaining homes that couldn’t be sold or salvaged.

That recommendation will go to the Ward County Commission next week for final approval.