Lawmakers mull expansion of ND housing fund

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Associated Press

Posted on January 15, 2013 at 12:00 PM

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Katie Walters considers herself fortunate to have found a single-wide mobile home for her family after moving last month from sunny Southern California to wintry, wind-swept western North Dakota.

Walters, who works for a housing developer, was one of several people who urged the state House Finance and Taxation Committee on Monday to expand a housing development program aimed at giving seniors and other low-income residents an affordable place to live in North Dakota's booming oil patch.

Skyrocketing home prices and rental rates have forced many people seeking their fortunes in the state's oil patch to reside in trailers, campers and other places "you would not like to live," Walters told lawmakers.

The North Dakota Housing Finance Agency's low-income housing development program gives individual and business donors a dollar-for-dollar tax credit, and they can designate their contributions for specific projects. The Legislature in 2011 approved $15 million in income tax credits to subsidize construction of nearly $105 million in low-income dwellings.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple asked the Legislature to raise the tax-credit allotment to $20 million in 2013-14 and set aside $30 million from the state's general fund for affordable housing incentives.

Walters, a manager with Bakken Housing Partners, said her group is relying on the program to build a $4 million, 46-unit apartment complex that would house teachers, law enforcement officers, emergency workers and others whose salaries aren't near equal to those working for oil-related companies. The facility also would have a daycare.

Mike Anderson, the executive director of the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency, said more than 600 private investors successfully capitalized the agency's $15 million housing incentive fund by late last year. The housing fund enabled 26 housing projects to be built in 16 communities across the state, with about 740 dwellings designated as low-income, he said.

Anderson said the increased funding would be enough to build about 2,500 new low-income housing units over the next two years.

Still, Anderson said, the additional housing is "dwarfed by current needs" and hundreds of more low-income units are needed to keep pace with the state's burgeoning oil production.

"While there is a lot of housing construction going on, it is not near enough to solve the problem, especially when it comes to helping our most economically challenged households," Anderson said. "We need to accelerate our efforts."

John Phillips, president of Economic Development ND, said the lack of affordable housing has swelled across North Dakota.

"Workers can't work without housing and without housing families can't relocate," he said.

North Dakota's economic prosperity has been a boon for some but a burden for others, whose wages can't keep pace with the cost of living, Phillips said.

"The popular perception of oil country in western North Dakota is one of instant millionaires and widespread prosperity ... Fortunes have tuned for many families because of oil revenues and energy-related employment," he said. "But for others, the rapid change in the housing market has caused financial hardship and thrown them into personal economic crisis."

The House Finance and Taxation Committee took no action on the bill Monday. The bill is HB1029.

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Follow James MacPherson on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/macphersonja .

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