What began as a catastrophe ended as a blessing for Marci Sharbono.
“It was horrible at first,” said Sharbono, recalling the June 2011 flood that forced her from her apartment and eventually into a temporary housing unit provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. A housing crunch and rent that more than doubled on her former apartment kept her from finding permanent housing.
Her situation changed this past year when she was able to purchase a three-bedroom unit from FEMA in a new mobile home park called Wheatland Village, located in southeast Minot.
“I have never been happier,” Sharbono said. “This has really, in the end, been a dream come true for me. I couldn’t have had my own home without it.”
Wheatland Village is located in a portion of what used to be Virgil Workman Village, one of three group sites created for FEMA units after the flood. Virgil Workman Village had about 600 units at its peak.
Today, there are about 185 mobile homes in Wheatland Village, of which about 160 are units purchased by flood-displaced residents from FEMA, said Danelle Zietz, park property manager with 1st Minot Management.
“We have room for 350 so we will bring in new units until it’s full,” Zietz said, adding that the park’s lot rents are attracting interest. “We are probably one of the lowest rents in the city.”
The park is restricted to units no older than 1999 unless approved in a visual inspection. No additional former FEMA temporary housing units are being allowed.
The park was annexed into the city last spring and is part of the routine patrol of the Minot Police Department. The park is in Nedrose School District. Park operators have arranged for private garbage pickup and are planning an urban street improvement project to bring paving, curb and gutter over the next few years. Zietz said little infrastructure work has been needed because FEMA left the property upgraded and in good shape.
1st Minot Management has a temporary office at the site until a permanent building can be constructed.
SRT is working to bring its phone, Internet and security system services to the park this month. Zietz said Midcontinent also is looking at bringing its services, including cable television, to the area next spring.
“This is just the beginning,” she said of Wheatland Village. “This is a whole new subdivision called 55th Street Crossing. We are just one of the minor things that will be in it.”
The 55th Street Crossing development will include homes, recreational parks and walking trails. The developer has set aside land for possible use by Nedrose School and a fire station.
“We are planning on being here for a while,” said Bernita Conrade, who lives in a former FEMA unit in the park with her husband, Charles. “We feel safe out here. We love it. It’s usually pretty quiet. It’s been great for us.”
The Conrades had planned to move permanently to Bismarck, but their situation didn’t work out there. Instead, they were assisted by her mother in buying a FEMA unit. Bernita Conrade had been living in her mother’s house near the zoo when the flood displaced her in 2011.
Magrath Keelan lived in a five-bedroom house in the Lincoln area before the flood. He moved into a FEMA unit in Virgil Workman Village in October 2011 and now owns his three-bedroom unit.
“I like it. I haven’t had any problems,” he said. His daughters, ages 6 and 4, also like the neighborhood.
“There’s lots of kids out here. They play with the neighbor kids,” he said.
For himself, Keelan said he bought his unit “to have a place to call my own.”
Without his FEMA unit, he added, “I wouldn’t have known what to do probably move out of state.”
“We would have tried to stick it out in Bismarck,” Conrade said. “We didn’t want to leave. We love it here. It’s just finding someplace to live that’s affordable.”
Without her FEMA unit, Sharbono said, she may have had to move back to Montana to live with her parents.
Now she not only owns a home, which she said she bought at an affordable price with help from a low-interest North Dakota Rebuilders Loan, but she saved enough money to replace her 16-year-old Toyota.
“Everything just fell into place for me,” she said. “It’s changed my whole life.”