FEMA housing mission ends

The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s temporary housing mission in the Souris Valley came to a close Tuesday after 27 months of post-flood assistance.

The total cost of the housing mission has yet to be calculated, but in the aftermath of the 2011 Souris River flooding, FEMA brought in 2,052 manufactured homes to address the severe housing shortage in the region and provide shelter for 1,960 households. There were 92 households requiring two units.

All the households have since moved into permanent housing.

“It’s a big success story for us,” said Dan Alexander, federal disaster recovery coordinator for the region. “There’s quite a few best practices coming out of this that we are going to be capturing and trying to advance in future housing missions.”

FEMA plans to shut down its local housing office, releasing four employees within the next few weeks. FEMA had employed about 100 people at the peak of its housing mission, including 15 to 20 local residents.

Four or five FEMA employees will remain in other operations. There are about 80 housing units being processed from a Velva staging area to a new staging area at the state fairgrounds, which had served as a staging site in the past. Staging services are expected to be necessary through the rest of this year.

Except for several units brought in and never used that remain in FEMA’s inventory, decommissioned units have been donated to other agencies or became part of federal surplus property through the General Services Administration. Many of the manufactured home units went to tribes in North Dakota and neighboring states.

After the flood, FEMA had established three group housing complexes, providing 800 housing units. Those sites were De Sour Valley Heights on the outskirts of Burlington, Recovery Village northeast of Minot and Virgil Workman Village on the east end of Minot. Virgil Workman Village was the first to open, on Oct. 3, 2011.

In addition, FEMA used five manufactured housing parks and placed more than 1,118 manufactured housing units on private property.

All families needing housing were placed into units by Christmas 2011, which FEMA notes was an accomplishment considering the shortage of available contractors and the inhospitable weather that North Dakota can experience. From that point, residents returned to permanent housing at an average rate of about 100 a month, with more in the summer months and fewer in the winter.

FEMA housing staff assisted residents in finding available rental housing and coordinated a sales program that resulted in 266 units being sold to residents for permanent housing. The owner of the property hosting Virgil Workman Village converted a portion of the area into a mobile-home park, Wheatland Village, for about 200 of the purchased units. Other purchased units remain on private sites or are in other mobile home parks.

Helping households return to a permanent housing situation has been a collaborative effort, Alexander said. Low-interest loans from the Bank of North Dakota Rebuilders Loan Program has been key to assisting residents with the purchase of a unit from FEMA. Because of that program and the work of the Minot Housing Authority in finding available public housing, there no longer is a need to establish a public housing project using decommissioned units, Alexander said. FEMA had been working with the housing authority to donate units for such a project.

FEMA officials added that Hope Village and Recovery Warehouse provided critical volunteer labor and donated resources to help homeowners repair damaged houses so they could return home.

FEMA provided more than $90 million to Souris Valley residents to repair flood-damaged properties or pay rent while unable to live in a flood-damaged home. Statewide, FEMA provided more than $400 million in disaster assistance to individuals and governmental jurisdictions as a result of 2011 flooding.