No place like home

A new program aimed at creating more affordable housing in the oil patch is looking for builders, lenders and employers to be part of its solution.

A grassroots-driven initiative, the program is encourages builders to lower home prices while aiding buyers with closing costs and down payments.

Spokesman Matt Kukielka of LendSmart Mortgage, Minot, said the program, offered online at (, grew out of discussions among concerned community leaders, Realtors and lenders. They see expensive homes just sit on the market in northwestern North Dakota because people can’t afford the houses or don’t want to tie up a large share of their income for housing, he said.

“The problem is not everybody identifies themselves with their house. They don’t want huge house payments that don’t allow them to be able to let their kids play sports and do things with the family,” he said.

Most often, slow sales are not due to bad credit and inability to qualify for home loans, he said.

“A lot more people qualify than don’t qualify,” he said.

A greater concern is developers who put a huge mark-up on new homes, he said.

With the input of various groups and individuals, Kukielka said, a solution began to form.

“We are getting all the people to come together and solve it with no government intervention. There’s no tax dollars. This is the people solving things for the people,” he said.

Promoters have introduced the concept to city governing bodies and have consulted with Congressman Kevin Cramer, R-N.D. But the ideas and the tools being created are private-sector driven.

“It’s really all about the people,” Kukielka said.

Under the program, builders and lenders arrange a plan whereby they pay the buyers’ closing costs. Employers contribute by giving employees grants toward down payments. The program is sending letters to hundreds of oil-patch employers to acquaint them with the details.

Kukielka said many employers already are paying cost-of-living bonuses to be able to recruit and retain employees. Putting that money toward a down payment would be a one-time investment that would generate a long-term benefit, he said. Communities are more stable and employees more productive when workers are able to get into housing situations that enable them to have their families join them, he said.

Builders in the program must agree to structure sales to meet Federal Housing Administration loan guidelines, which would limit prices to about $270,000. Monthly house payments could be kept to an average of $1,500.

Eagle Homes, an Illinois company, has signed up with the program. Ken Wisniewski, principal for Eagle Homes, said participation in the affordable home project is a good move for his company.

“We know what we have to do and we can do it,” he said. The difficulty in keeping home prices affordable has been land prices, and the company looked for several months to identify the properties that it has selected, he said.

The company acquired 29 lots with infrastructure developed by Annabelle Homes in Tioga and bought acreage for a 148-home project just outside the city of Carpio, to be served by the city’s sewer system. Eagle Homes offers custom-built modular homes. It also builds the foundations and garages on the site.

Wisniewski said the company is offering homes from 1,100 to 2,000 square feet at prices ranging from $200,000 to $230,000 in Carpio. The price range in Tioga is somewhat higher at $210,000 to $235,000.

The program website tracks the cities where builders, lenders and employers are getting involved. It is beginning to add information about participating builders, including styles of homes and links to builders’ websites.

Information is being added to the website on a regular basis, Kukielka said. Homeowners also will be able to list their properties for sale if they are willing to structure sales according to program guidelines.

The website is meant to give prospective homebuyers a place to start their search, Kukielka said. The only request of homebuyers is that they get pre-qualified for home loans before beginning their inquiry with builders on the site.

“It’s going to get a lot more people into housing,” Kukielka said of the program, which he considers just a beginning. “I really believe as the summer goes on, builders are going to find a way to make affordable housing for everybody.”