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Housing market review could reveal progress in Grand Forks

Grand Forks' tight housing market has been the source of frustration for many people who have recently attempted to own or rent a home. After months of study, a city commission determined the housing crunch was caused in part by the city's supply...

Housing graphic

Grand Forks' tight housing market has been the source of frustration for many people who have recently attempted to own or rent a home.

After months of study, a city commission determined the housing crunch was caused in part by the city's supply of housing not keeping up with demand.

The Blue Ribbon Commission on Housing had the task of studying the housing market, diagnosing problems with it and suggesting solutions to those problems. It released its report nine months ago. In that report, the commission found housing was in short supply and rising home and rent prices were putting more housing units out of reach for some populations.

Officials are now reviewing housing market activity to see if progress has been made on the commission's final recommendations for helping the market.

A "housing update" will be delivered Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. by staff from the city and the Chamber of Commerce at the Chamber's offices, 202 N. 3rd St.

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Part of the update will be the debut of a new housing tool on the City of Grand Forks' website. This "housing dashboard" will be updated periodically with local housing data the public can view.

"We want to get that information out there for everyone in the housing chain," said Chamber President and CEO Barry Wilfahrt. "That includes landowners, developers, Realtors, homeowners and potential homeowners."

Chamber members say they hope the data will encourage more housing construction in the city. A building boom in rental housing already got under way this summer, but the dashboard could encourage a growth spurt in the single-family home market.

Building trends

The number of apartments being built in Grand Forks is at an all-time high, according to the city's planning department.

Building permits and city staff projections put the number of apartments units that will be built by the end of this year at more than 1,000.

The increase in apartments could loosen up a tight vacancy rate that has affected the city for about two years. Normal vacancy rates range from 7 to 10 percent, but Grand Forks posted a 3.9 percent rate in July, according to the Greater Grand Forks Apartment Association.

While apartment construction is booming, the number of single-family home building permits is about the same as the amount filed this time last year.

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Seventy permits have been turned into the city's building inspections office as of Aug. 31. That number was 71 for the same time period last year and 106 at the end of 2012.

The average number of single-family building permits filed each year from 2002 to 2012 was 87, according to the inspections department.

While single-family permits total remained about the same so far, next year's numbers could see an increase as more developments with homes or lots are popping up in the city.

"The difference this year is that there are more lots available for development than in previous years," City Planner Brad Gengler said.

Several large subdivisions are in planning or early construction stages throughout the city, opening up more opportunities for potential homeowners in the coming years, according to Gengler.

Housing market

More housing construction and land development could relieve some pressure on Grand Forks' existing housing market.

About 90 homes were for sale in the city as of Tuesday evening, according to the Multiple Listing Service provided by the Grand Forks Board of Realtors.

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In its report, the Blue Ribbon Commission indicated that Grand Forks' market would be considered healthy if it had 200 to 250 home listings at any given time.

Also indicating stress in the city's housing market was an increasing median home price. In 2012, the median price for a single-family home in the city -- about $170,000 -- was up 11 percent from 2009, according to the commission. High demand and increasing property valuations in the city could drive that median price up even further this year.

Increasing prices have resulted in a decrease in the number of affordable homes in the city.

The number of homes selling for less than $150,000 in Grand Forks decreased by 10 percent from 2007 to 2012.

Those low-priced homes also tended to spend the least time on the market last year. Homes costing $105,000 to $149,999 spent 85 days on the market compared to 171 days for a home double the price.

"The economic data is strong evidence that demand for housing in Grand Forks is real (and) sign that prices may be rising due to short supply," the report stated.

Call Jewett at (701) 780-1108; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1108; or send email to bjewett@gfherald.com . Follow her on Twitter at @GFcityBeat or on her blog at citystreetbeat.areavoice.com.

Single family new dwelling permits

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