Housing is western North Dakota’s biggest issue.

It’s a problem that U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) is looking to help solve at the federal level.

Heitkamp was in Williston on Tuesday hosting a housing forum with local leaders and members of the public in an effort to understand the housing problem plaguing the area.

“That’s why I’m here,” she said. “I have the chance to hopefully influence some public policy.”

The senator said housing is a top issue not only in the western part of the state but across the state in Fargo and Bismarck. She broke the solution to housing shortage into three segments—infrastructure, financing and affordable housing.

With infrastructure costs up, the cost to build in the Williston, Stanley and Dickinson areas have skyrocketed. Lots in the western parts of the state are going for hundreds of thousands of dollars per acre.

City commissioner Tate Cymbaluk, also a realtor, said lots in Williston are on average $60,000 per acre but rises to six-digit figures closer to town. He said there are lots in the $200,000 range and one property asking for $1 million per acre, but stressed asking price and going price are two different things.

“Infrastructure is very costly,” Cymbaluk said, noting the acreage costs are 40 percent infrastructure.

From a financing standpoint, Heitkamp pointed toward potential first-time homeowners carrying a lot of debt with them to western North Dakota, oftentimes preventing them from getting a needed bank loan.

A lack of Section 8 housing and rising incomes have also contributed to the financing situation. A person working for some of the lowest wages in Williston can’t afford $2,500 a month for an apartment, but also doesn’t qualify for housing assistance and Section 8 housing.

Then there is D.C., which Heitkamp said contributed in its own way to the nation’s problems, which have become North Dakota’s problems, too.

With embedded rates and higher down payments, owning a house is more difficult. A $300,000 home could require a $60,000 down payment. She said studies have shown a higher down payment doesn’t necessarily prevent foreclosure, either.

“Instead of creating too big to to fail, we’ve created too small to succeed,” Heitkamp said. “We’ve got to unwind that.”

The final segment of the housing crisis, affordable housing, is among the biggest mysteries in the issue. With costs to build up and the potential for builders to cash in, nobody is willing to build affordable, single-family homes in the area.

Heitkamp said the average cost of a home in North Dakota is $400,000 and said even in Bismarck, the second largest city in the state, only one house is for sale that is $150,000 or under.

Rather than buy a house at $400,000, many choose to rent or live in man camps with roots elsewhere with no commitment to live in North Dakota for extended periods of time.

Heitkamp warned that when the economy turns around nationwide, the out-of-state workers not committed to North Dakota will find jobs back in their home states where their families are and housing is affordable.

“You are going to have a worker shortage like you’ve never seen,” she said.

Williston Mayor Ward Koeser said a study by North Dakota State University estimated the permanent population of Williston to be 20,000 with a total service population of 40,000.

He added that 40 percent of the workforce in the state is in the oilfields.

“That is not healthy, people,” Koeser said. “That is not healthy.”

Heitkamp said solutions to the issues in Williston and North Dakota would come down to loosening federal guidelines on lending and affordable housing, along with using public money to help people that cannot live in this expensive environment.

Cymbaluk said he felt the loan issues would start to clear when giant lending firms like Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae are fixed in Washington.

Both he and Heitkamp cited the Bank of North Dakota as a useful tool to help homeowners move from man camps and apartments into single-family housing.

“We know that community is build through housing,” Heitkamp said




05/19/2015 12:55pm

Educated or literate or we can say that liberal minded people are far much better than the people who are less educated or whose minds are so conservative and closed.


I'm so happy to know that Senator Heidi Heitkamp is really using herself as an instrument to solve this big problem we have in North Dakota. I know that she's been working so hard for this, and I just want to commend her efforts for all of these. Housing is really an issue because there are some private people who are not cooperative to the project of government. With the help of other officials, I hope Sen. Heitkamp will solve the problem before it becomes bigger!


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