New subsidy increases affordable housing

An additional federal subsidy is enabling the owners of a southeast Minot apartment complex and the Minot Housing Authority to increase the number of housing units available to low-income renters.

Representatives of the housing authority and Belveron, the owner of Meadowlark Heights, held a meeting Wednesday for existing tenants to explain what the new subsidy from the Department of Housing and Urban Development will mean.

“Nobody has to move out. Nobody’s rents are going up,” said Belveron representative Grant Sisler. “If somebody chooses to move out, the next tenant who moves in will qualify for Section 8.”

Meadowlark Apartments has 32 market-rate units that could become Section 8 housing. Section 8 is a federal program that provides vouchers to pay all or part of an eligible tenant’s rent. Tenants pay no more than 30 percent of their annual gross income.

Meadowlark Heights consists of 96 units that currently are a mix of subsidized and market rent. Only a handful of tenants attended Wednesday’s meeting to ask questions because many learned beforehand that the change would not affect them. Those who attended stressed the need for affordable housing in Minot, particularly for single-parent families.

Mark Austin, director of the occupancy program at the housing authority, said existing tenants who aren’t receiving subsidies but believe they might qualify for vouchers will be offered interviews to determine their eligibility and sign up if appropriate. Tenants will be receiving letters with information on how to go about that.

The housing authority has about 180 people on a waiting list at its Milton Young Tower and 700 people on a list for private housing. Being awarded a voucher hasn’t been a guarantee that a recipient will have a place to live because the supply of qualified housing has been so tight. That’s where the additional units being made available at Meadowlark Heights will help.

“The net benefit to the community is, over time, there will be more subsidized units in Minot,” said Louis Harrison with Belveron.

Austin said access to rental units is improving as more complexes have been built in recent years. Even so, having more units eligible in the Section 8 program gives people in the program more options, he said.

“The need is there,” he said. “Every community, in general, needs more affordable housing.”

Belveron’s ability to persuade the federal Housing and Urban Development office in Denver to approve additional subsidies is a significant accomplishment given the federal fiscal environment, Austin added.

“I was surprised at what Belveron properties were able to do with this,” he said.

Belveron officials were somewhat surprised, too, but also pleased.

“Our goal has always been to provide more affordable housing,” Sisler said.