Red River Regional Council at work to combat rural housing shortages

Nov. 28—GRAND FORKS — Amidst housing shortages in Pembina, Nelson, Walsh and Grand Forks counties, the Red River Regional Council is at work to remedy it with future spec homes and a region-wide housing survey.

Lisa Rotvold, the housing coordinator for the RRRC who works with the Red River Community Housing Development Organization, said the availability of housing is important to draw people into the area.

"I think in this region there's a lot of potential job growth," she said. "There's a lot of potential community development, but a lot of it hinges on whether or not adequate housing can be provided."

The main focus is on the housing survey, which the RRRC is working on in collaboration with Pembina, Nelson and Walsh counties' job development authorities, as well as the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corporation and Grand Forks Housing Authority. The study will be made up of two phases. Phase one looks into demographic information and includes focus groups, interviews and online surveys, as well as working with consultants to compile all the data and information collected into a report.

Rotvold said this study is hopefully different from ones in the past.

"What we hope differentiates this from previous housing studies is that we want it to be very forward-looking and we want it to really capture the opportunity that is there for the taking," she said.

Phase two will launch by bringing people together to look at the findings and discuss what to do with the results. Rotvold said some communities are ready to work on their housing, while others might also be encouraged to do so once the findings of the survey are released.

The surveys and interviews are expected to run through January, with the presentation of the findings happening at the end of the month or the beginning of February. Planning for what to do with the findings and how to move forward will begin after that. By April, Rotvold hopes to have four plans in place, one for each county in the region.

So far, the communities in the region have been receptive to the survey, she said.

"There's a lot of support," Rotvold said. "A lot of people (are) interested in the issue of housing. It's really impacting a lot of communities and a lot of businesses in the region."

The RRRC is still fundraising to top off the project's budget. The majority of the funds have been acquired through the survey partners and the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency, but $5,000 is still needed.

Along with the housing survey, Rotvold and the Red River CHDO are trying to get spec homes built in some of the communities within the region to encourage growth. Rotvold says there's currently a contractor shortage. These contractors usually work on custom homes, or in Grand Forks where they know the houses they build will sell.

The CHDO is trying to bundle a few entry-level homes together under one contract, which Rotvold hopes is more appealing to a builder. The CHDO will take on the responsibility of selling the housing and, if successful, can jump start some housing development in smaller towns and show builders that there is a market for them.

Rotvold is also looking for ways the counties within the region can collaborate with each other, especially when it comes to attracting more financial support for housing development. Instead of looking for support or applying for grants and programs as individual counties, it would be beneficial to work together as an entire region, she said.

"There are some federal programs that have come across my desk and I've thought, "gosh, we're too small,'" she said. "But, if we could pull together and apply as a region, maybe we could be competitive and bring some of those dollars into the state."