Dealing with flood homes

A nonprofit group is hoping to access state funds for flood relief to buy vacant properties in Minot’s valley and create low-income rental housing.

Plum Valley Developers of Minot wants the Minot Housing Authority to seek to get back a $1.48 million grant that it returned to the state after a project fell through that would have set up a low-income mobile home park using former Federal Emergency Management Agency temporary units.

Plum Valley representatives will meet with the housing authority at its board’s Thursday morning meeting. The organization has requested the housing authority amend its original plan for the mobile home park to propose a project with Plum Valley and re-submit the update to the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency.

Plum Valley wants to buy 28 properties in the Lincoln-Ramstad neighborhood and clean them up. The organization then would lease the properties to property management companies willing to build and maintain housing units at affordable rents.

There are legal hurdles in trying to reclaim the money that might make it not worth the housing authority’s effort, according to executive director Tom Alexander. He said it would take an attorney general’s opinion regarding whether the Plum Valley plan meets legislative intent that existed when the 2013 Legislature approved the grant program.

“It’s harder than we think to get that money,” Alexander said, who noted going back to the Legislature may be a faster course of action.

Sen. Karen Krebsbach, R-Minot, a co-sponsor of the House bill, said legislators on the interim Budget Section prefer that the matter be handled by the full Legislature. She said she supports creating affordable housing to replace homes lost in the flood and expects that funding proposals would get serious consideration if brought up in the next session, which convenes in January.

“There’s going to be some assistance given in this area,” she said. “There’s just too much demand.”

Waiting for the next legislative session is not a good option because it delays the project for another construction season at a time when people need affordable housing, said Kari Conrad, president of Plum Valley Developers. She believes her organization’s project fits within existing state law and can be funded now. The grant money also may be the only state flood-relief assistance out there, she said.

“It’s the only money that is available that can be used to help renters,” she said.

The existing law appropriates $1.5 million to rehabilitation or replacement of flood-damaged homes, to retain homeowners and other residents in the community and for transitional expenses to facilitate housing availability for flood-impacted residents. It doesn’t specifically allocate money to a low-income mobile home park, although that was the potential use being considered when the bill was passed. The Minot Housing Authority received the grant and spent a portion to assist flood victims with rent deposits before turning the rest back.

Conrad said the suggestion to ask the housing authority to re-draft its plan for the $1.48 million came from the state Housing Finance Agency, which was reluctant to re-open the grant process to allow for new requests. She said an attorney general’s opinion could be obtained more quickly than waiting for legislative action.

The money is critical for Plum Valley to move forward, she added.

“We need to have funds,” Conrad said. “Also, we want to work with the housing authority. We need their expertise.”

Plum Valley is organized as a Community Land Trust. It’s goal is to acquire property and allow a builder to construct and rent housing on the property. By retaining ownership of the land, costs and rents can be reduced. Minot has a second community CLT that builds and sells houses to lower income homeowners while retaining the land.