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Affordable housing in Williston: Past, present and future

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Posted: Friday, March 8, 2013 10:14 am

The mission for the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency is simple enough: make housing affordable in the state. The goal of the Williston Housing Authority isn’t too different; the staff of seven is focused on low-income housing. These two groups, along with many others, are helping Williston meet the housing needs within the area as the supply side of housing is starting to turn the corner.

“Affordable housing is crucial to the stability, strength and quality of life of our families and communities in North Dakota,” said Mike Anderson, executive director of the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency. “To make affordable housing happen, it takes the commitment and work of many partners in both the private and public sectors.”

A number of entities in recent years have committed to bringing in a new supply of affordable housing. But, before many of these groups ever thought about coming to Williston, one group was already filling the need for low-income housing.

Williston Housing Authority

The Williston Housing Authority and the seven people on its staff have focused for decades on providing housing to those with low income. According to WHA Executive Director Judy Herring, the office on 8th Avenue West in Williston manages 192 apartments — 128 public housing and 64 Section 8 housing.

“A good portion of our apartments are for the elderly or disabled, but we still serve a wide gamut of individuals and families,” said Herring.

As a housing authority, Herring said they get asked a lot of questions about affordable accommodations in the area, which is why they do their best to hand out as much information as they can on landlords, rental companies and upcoming housing projects. The WHA isn’t involved with building new apartments but they are doing their part to make people aware of their options. Options that Herring said are keeping her staff and others very busy.

The Williston Housing Authority isn’t the only group in town with a main focus on low-income housing. Herring said that groups like Community Action and Valley City Rental also do what they can to manage the needs of those with little-to-no income. Both of these groups have offices in Williston and information about their programs is available online.

Financing Affordable Housing

When it comes to current housing projects, at least four separate development groups in Williston earned unique affordable housing financing in 2012, leading to announcements and groundbreakings for their units. One of these includes the Williston State College Foundation’s project to house essential community services personnel.

“We started this 74-unit housing project because we felt it would be a good way to retain the quality people we have at the college and throughout town, as well as help us recruit additional essential personnel to keep up with our growing community,” said Keith Olson, Small Business Development Center director at Williston State College and a key player in organizing the affordable housing project underway on campus.

Olson said great existing relationships with local partners like the North Dakota Department of Transportation and Bethel Lutheran are making this housing project work for eight separate entities that will use it to house employees.

The project broke ground in October 2012, after Gate City Bank contributed $1.25 million to the North Dakota Housing Finance Incentive Fund, targeting almost $700,000 of it to the WSC Foundation’s housing project.

According to Olson, it’s the equity from the tax credits made possible through the statewide Housing Incentive Fund that will allow Williston State College and its partners to keep rent prices down.

“This puts us on par with the rest of the state when it comes to addressing some of the housing needs with the appropriate amenities,” said Olson. Thanks to a relatively mild winter, the four-story apartment building is scheduled to be complete by this summer.

Along with the WSC Foundation housing project, the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency is providing support for the Lutheran Social Services-Legacy at Central Place renovation, Dakota Commercial’s Williston Heights project and the already-complete Williams County multi-use building.

Since 2008, the NDHFA will have invested more than $20 million into the development of $55 million in housing projects to help provide 330 affordable housing units in Williston.  

“We are proud of our partnership with the projects that have brought hundreds of new affordable housing units to Williston and remain committed to helping the community address the need for safe, decent and affordable housing options for all its residents,” said Anderson, executive director of the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency.

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