Options to create housing

A housing study report is recommending the construction of more than 900 new affordable housing units in Minot over the next 10 years.

The 124-page report goes to the Minot City Council Monday. In addition to the construction numbers, the report recommends the city form a Minot Housing Partnership to pursue affordable housing and create an employer-assisted work force housing program.

Developers already have made some strides with affordable housing, including the opening of Artspace downtown and Washington Townhomes, which is now being expanded in southeast Minot.

The council also will be asked Monday for a letter of support for an affordable, senior housing project in its quest for financing through low-income tax credits.

Beyond Shelter, which was behind Washington Townhomes, is proposing the project, called Cook’s Court. The project would provide 40 apartments to people aged 55 or older at 1810-2nd St. SE, just north of Kmart. Ground breaking would occur in the fall of 2014 with construction completed in the fall of 2015. Residents would need to meet income guidelines ranging of up to 60 percent of annual median income, which would be $31,140 a year for a couple.

Minot Housing Authority would own and operate the property. Efforts would be made to work with local service providers to offer services such as on-site senior meals, commodity food supplements and transportation.

Cook’s Court has been awarded $600,000 in North Dakota Housing Incentive Fund credits. The developer is working with the city to qualify for $1.2 million in Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery funds.

Park South Holdings LLC, also is looking at developing and expanding the Park South apartments in southeast Minot into 115 housing units for residents age 55 and older. About half of the units will be affordable housing. The property is a former business college.

In addition, a portion of CDBG-DR dollars coming to North Dakota are designated for a 42-unit housing project for low- to moderate-income residents in north Minot.

Minot’s housing study was conducted by CDM Smith and funded with $300,000 from the city’s original $67 million in CDBG-DR funding. When an alderman inquired at a recent committee meeting about the value for the money, finance director Cindy Hemphill said officials with U.S. Housing and Urban Development have commented that this is the best affordable housing study they have seen. She said they were “very impressed that we got this quality of a study at the cost that we did.”

The study’s recommendations include:

Develop 300 new affordable homes, ranging from $155,000 to $200,000 over the next seven years.

Develop 450 units of affordable rental housing over the next 10 years.

Develop 180 additional units of affordable housing for seniors and disabled residents over the next 10 years, which could be a combination of home ownership and rental units.

Establish an employer-assisted workforce housing program to raise money to facilitate development of houses, a small number of temporary housing units and affordable rental housing.

Create a Community Land Trust to address home ownership and rental needs.

Specific actions recommended in the next year and half include establishing an experienced development team to build 50 new affordable homes by December 2014. The study recommends forming a Minot Housing Partnership to increase the availability of affordable housing. An interim committee would be set up to organize the partnership and oversee the work of other committees appointed to begin work on key tasks.

Part of the work of the committees will be finding potential resources, which might come from the City of Minot, North Dakota Housing Finance Agency, regional planning funds and the Minot Area Community Foundation.

Another action item would be to form a task force to enlist the support of elected leaders, church groups, organizations involved in housing, real estate professionals and others.

The City of Minot already has appointed a Community Advisory Committee and a Technical Advisory Committee to further investigate the issue of affordable housing in Minot. Heading these efforts are John MacMartin, president of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce, the Rev. Paul Krueger at Our Savior Lutheran Church, and Breezy Schmidt, staff attorney with Legal Services of North Dakota.

The city also has appointed a committee to develop a Community Land Trust, while a separate nonprofit group is pursuing its own CLT.

The study recommends an affordable workforce housing forum be held, featuring representatives of other North Dakota communities who have participated in affordable housing efforts. Other suggested actions include use of media and websites to communicate the message to the public over the longer term.

Based on a December 2012 survey, there were 5,289 households in Minot paying more than 30 percent of annual income for housing, which is considered the tipping point in affordable housing.

“Many employees in Minot are struggling to find housing they can afford,” the report stated. “Employers have a vested interest in attracting and retaining a quality work force and they benefit from having employees who live near their place of work. Affordable workforce housing reduces employee turnover, improves punctuality, and reduces the time employees may need leave from work to deal with child care issues or other family needs. Employees often have a longer tenure with a company if they are grounded in the community.”

As an example of what can be done within the business community, the report describes the Marin Workforce Housing Trust in Marin County, Calif. Started with business and government investment in 2011, the trust raised more than $5 million and established a revolving loan fund to provide low-interest loans to construct, rehabilitate and preserve affordable housing.

Another example exists in Illinois and Virginia communities, which developed programs that provide down payment assistance for public employees.

Other options are city incentives to affordable housing developers, such as increased density bonuses and expedited permitting. The city also could promote basement apartments or other accessory dwelling units in residential areas.

The study looked at Minot’s current landscape to determine where potential new housing could be placed within the existing city boundaries.

As part of the study, an initial infill housing inventory for neighborhoods affected by the Souris River flood of 2011 was developed. Potential locations were identified throughout the city.

Other options for infill housing are loft housing above businesses downtown, accessory dwellings in existing residences and re-purposing other buildings.

The full report is available online at (cdbg.minotnd.org) under Affordable Housing Action Plan.

“Undertaking an initiative to develop affordable workforce housing in Minot will require community support, fund-raising efforts, the engagement of professional services such as attorneys and accountants, and a commitment to support the effort for several years,” the study concluded. “Developing affordable housing requires business knowledge, expertise in construction and development, good planning skills, understanding of prudent accounting practices, and reporting to ensure developments comply with required regulations and utilize best business practices to achieve the greatest benefits for the community.”