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Rents continue to rise, driving some out of Grand Forks

Median rent in Grand Forks

Vanessa Coachman had wanted to upgrade her living situation.

The 25-year-old UND graduate had been living in a one-bedroom apartment downtown, which was “fine, but not the best place to start a family,” she said.

After months, her search for a modest two-bedroom apartment — in the price range of $750 to $850 per month — came up short.

“It is extremely expensive to find a two-bedroom,” and the ones in her price range were either gone too quickly or of poor quality, she said.

So, after living on her own for years, Coachman has moved back to her parents’ home in Larimore and commutes to her job at in Grand Forks.

“I’ll still be looking (for an apartment in Grand Forks), but from what I see in the housing market, it’s not going to happen,” she said. “It can get depressing, if you look at it.”

Coachman paid $645 per month for her one-bedroom, and said the rent increased to $695 for the next tenant.

With rents continuing to increase in Grand Forks, stories like Coachman’s are becoming common. Property managers say the rising rental rates are market-driven, and local experts hope the hundreds of new apartments being built will stabilize the market.

Rising rents

The median rent in Grand Forks was $673 in 2012, according to the U.S. Census. That was up from $658 in 2011 and $632 in 2010, and the trend in rent prices is still rising.

“We are getting more rent today for the same houses than we were four to five years ago,” said Darrin Kuenzel, business partner at Elite Property Management, which mainly rents houses. He guessed the rents have jumped maybe 25 to 30 percent in recent years.

But the prices haven’t deterred business — “We’re almost at 100 percent occupancy,” he said.

Grand Forks is in the middle of an apartment construction boom, but the new units are not coming with lower rents.

The high rents on new apartments mean more amenities, said Amanda Welk, vice president of field operations with Goldmark Property Management. The market has pushed property companies to get creative in what they offer tenants, so many new apartment complexes have fitness rooms or free wireless Internet, she said.

“It’s really getting competitive with what people are offering and including with rent,” Welk said. “The highest rents will be in the newest buildings.”

Asked if the high rents could end up pricing some people out of apartments, Welk said, “It’s possible.”

Both Kuenzel and Welk could only guess at why the demand for apartments is so high. Welk suggested that more people are choosing to live in apartments these days, and Kuenzel said many Oil Patch workers are now renting in Grand Forks and commuting west.

But while the high demand and short supply are what caused rent prices to rise, the apartment supply is rapidly growing. More than 500 new rental units are expected to be built in 2014, according to the city’s housing dashboard website.

And the apartment building boom has created more vacancies — from 2.29 to 4.41 percent in the past year — which should eventually stabilize the rental rates by increasing the supply, said Terry Hanson, executive director of the Grand Forks Housing Authority.

But the stabilization is gradual, which doesn’t help people like Coachman with an immediate need for somewhere to live.

Keeping people

Coachman said she’ll probably stay living with her parents in Larimore for a couple more months, and if she can’t find an apartment in Grand Forks in that time, she’ll probably settle for renting in Larimore.

Coachman isn’t the only person moving away from Grand Forks because of a lack of affordable housing, said Corey Mock, executive director for Greater Grand Forks Young Professionals.

Having seen other recent college graduates struggle to find housing, Mock said it’s unfortunate that affordable housing is a barrier for Grand Forks attracting and retaining young professionals.

The biggest challenge Mock sees is among young people searching for their first or second home. There is also a challenge among people looking to upgrade apartments in later college years or right after college, like Coachman.

“People may be looking for some upward mobility, something that’s more appropriate for their income or career or for their family, and that’s not always easy to find,” Mock said.

Charly Haley
Charly Haley covers city government for the Grand Forks Herald. As night reporter, she also has many general assignments. Before working at the Herald, she was a reporter at the Jamestown Sun and interned at The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, Detroit Lakes Newspapers and the St. Cloud Times. Haley is a graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead, and her hometown is Sartell, Minn.
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