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Grand Forks officials say lack of affordable housing affects growth

The lack of affordable housing is the biggest housing issue affecting Grand Forks, impacting its ability to retain residents and attract new ones, according to members of a new commission assembled by the mayor.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Housing spent its first meeting identifying strengths and weaknesses of the city's housing situation.

While the city has plenty of upper-scale housing, the commission members agreed it needs more homes that young people and seniors can afford.

"It's hard for people to find a home under $160,000 that they don't have to stick $30,000 into right away to make it livable," said Tom Ford, vice president of the Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals.

Several commission members said the city's high costs for construction and land make building homes for less than $200,000 unfeasible today.

Members in the realty and home-building industry said they worried that there are many interested in buying homes for less than $200,000, but they have no inventory to show them.

Affected groups

Young people were identified as one of the groups most affected by the deficiency of housing.

The lack of starter homes for young people means the community risks losing them to places such as Fargo or Minneapolis where housing is more affordable, said Emily Wright, civic engagement coordinator for the Grand Forks Housing Authority.

The need for affordable housing affects not only young people and families but seniors and those ready to retire as well, according to Collette Iseminger, director of the Senior Center.

She said older people are interested in moving to Grand Forks because of its quality transportation system and medical services, but can't because there is no affordable housing available.

Not having this sort of housing also keeps businesses from coming to the city because there is no place for their employees to live, Wright said. Companies in town that want to expand face a similar predicament, she said.

Other issues

The commission also identified several other tasks it should take up, including:

• Analyzing the city's direction of growth, and comparing the cost of expanding out versus revamping older portions of the city.

• Finding out why all types of housing in Grand Forks are more expensive than in other peer cities.

• Determining how the city can become more proactive when identifying housing needs.

Call Jewett at (701) 780-1108; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1108; or send email to