Housing committee makes plans for Community Land Trust

The uncertainty surrounding Minot’s future flood plain could affect land purchase decisions of a new entity being set up to provide more affordable housing in Minot.

A mayor-appointed committee developing a Community Land Trust met Wednesday to begin putting an organizational structure in place. Under a Community Land Trust, a nonprofit organization owns the land but does not own or operate the housing. Because the homeowner or landlord providing rental units does not invest in the land, the cost of the housing is reduced.

Acquiring land will be one of the first actions of the proposed CLT once the organizational process is completed.

One option is to obtain properties not rehabilitated after the flood of 2011. Committee chairwoman Connie Feist said revitalizing neighborhoods affected by the flood makes the most sense.

“I have always felt this was the most viable program to do something with the lots down in the valley that have been abandoned,” she said. “Addressing the blight in the valley that we are now starting to see is one of the biggest reasons to pursue a CLT.”

Cindy Hemphill, city finance director, advised the committee that the Federal Emergency Management Agency plans to produce a new flood map in 1-1/2 to two years that will change the scope of Minot’s flood plain. Currently, almost all of Minot is considered outside the flood plain, based on the existing flood control structures designed to provide 100-year flood protection.

Hemphill said a new flood map is expected to set new flood elevators that place the valley or parts of the valley back into a flood plain. A new map would impose flood insurance costs on homeowners and prompt new building codes. That could affect housing construction costs and the monthly payments for a low-income resident on CLT property.

“The flood insurance could easily make that home unaffordable,” Hemphill said.

The other option is to acquire property outside of the flood zone. Feist said that could lead to resistance from developers who also want properties on the hills. In addition, the CLT’s ideal situation would be to have land donated or obtained at reduced cost, which is more likely with idle property in the valley.

The city has access to $2 million from a state Rebuild and Retain grant that it proposes to use to support a CLT. Hemphill explained that the money wasn’t specifically designated to a CLT when it was granted, and it may be necessary to ask the state to alter program rules to make it work. The community was to match the $2 million with other funds and use the grant by June 2015.

In bylaws reviewed by the committee, the CLT would arrange for houses to be built or rebuilt for sale to low- to moderate-income homeowners, defined as those with incomes up to 80 percent of the area’s median annual income. The committee discussed raising the income limit to 100 percent of the median to make the program available to more people struggling to afford a home. However, to increase the opportunity of accessing money from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the standard was kept at 80 percent for now.

In addition to Feist, committee members are Minot Housing Authority director Tom Pearson; Mark Lyman of Odney; and Minot City Council member Amy Moen. Moen was absent Wednesday.

The CLT being organized would have a nine-member board with three directors representing homeowners leasing from the CLT, three directors representing the community and three technical representatives, such as those with insurance, real estate or housing expertise. At least a third of the board must consist of residents of low-income neighborhoods or representatives of organizations serving low-income populations.

The proposed CLT would need to incorporate as a nonprofit. The committee is moving ahead with that paperwork and plans to entertain a proposal for administration from the Minot Housing Authority when it meets again Oct. 2.

A second non-profit group, Plum Valley Developers, is pursuing a CLT that would provide rental housing. The group is seeking operational grants.

“We have identified abandoned houses or properties that aren’t being redone in the valley, and we are interested in securing funds to either purchase them or have them donated,” said Kari Conrad, president of Plum Valley Developers. “We are also talking with some businesses that might want to build on lots that we acquire. They would build on it for their low- to moderate-income employees.”

Plum Valley Developers has been working with Minot Housing Authority and Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota.

The plan is to develop apartments or townhouses, with the goal of establishing 500 units of new rental housing. Plum Valley Developers would contract with the owner of the rental buildings to ensure that the property is managed as affordable housing.