DANA SANDE: Act on housing? Yes, but Grand Forks should stop short of buying land
GRAND FORKS -- Available housing, home prices, rent prices, buildable land, planned unit developments, lots for sale. These are some of the many topics of conversations I have had over the last few years, starting before the mayor's announcement ...
GRAND FORKS - Available housing, home prices, rent prices, buildable land, planned unit developments, lots for sale. These are some of the many topics of conversations I have had over the last few years, starting before the mayor’s announcement of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Housing.
It’s true: There is a shortage of housing in Grand Forks - not just affordable housing, but homes available at all price levels.
So, should the city of Grand Forks take more active steps such as buying and selling land and building homes to ease the housing crunch?
Yes, the city of Grand Forks should take active steps to ease the housing crunch. But no, the city should not buy and sell land or build homes to do so.
Grand Forks has taken an active role promoting home ownership for many years. For example, Grand Forks provides incentives for new construction through two-year property tax abatements. We also encourage redevelopment and reinvestment through remodeling exemptions and the Renaissance Zone.
The city also has a long history of directing federal funds to housing programs. We invested more than $5 million directly to first-time homebuyers via assistance thru the American Dream Program. Federal support also has been extended to housing rehabilitation and affordable rental projects.
The city has donated vacant lots to nonprofits such as Habitat for Humanity and the Community Land Trust to help them create affordable home ownership opportunities. And while programs come and go, this level of long-term support shows the city’s commitment to housing and making home ownership easier.
In 2012, the mayor asked a group of citizens to analyze the current state of housing in Grand Forks and provide recommendations for improvement. These formal recommendations were presented to the Grand Forks City Council by the Blue Ribbon Commission on Housing in early 2013 as the Housing Market Snapshot and Strategic Priorities & Actions Steps, and have led the city to take several steps to help the housing situation.
For example, Grand Forks has tried to make things easier for developers by streamlining some processes. We have combined the planning and urban development departments into the planning and community development department, thereby creating a one-stop shop for builders and developers.
The city also has reduced fees to developers installing new infrastructure.
These changes are creating an easier process for builders to follow, providing an incentive for them to build more homes.
Another way we are working to help increase the quantity of developable lots is via the strategic infrastructure effort between the city, The Chamber and the Grand Forks Region Economic Development Corp.
We are identifying areas of Grand Forks that would - with some investment - spur development; and ultimately, we’ll invest in trunk infrastructure to open up new areas for development.
Simply raising awareness of the housing shortage also has been spurring development. By recommendation of the Blue Ribbon Commission on Housing, the city of Grand Forks has developed a Housing Data Dashboard (gfdashboard.weebly.com/), providing valuable information to builders, buyers and sellers of local economic data as well as housing statistics.
At the time the Data Dashboard went live, there was a considerable shortage of buildable lots. Through the Blue Ribbon Commission process, land owners have recognized the opportunity and have brought forward large Planned Unit Developments. These new developments dramatically have increased the availability of buildable lots to the point where by the end of this year, the city will have single family lots available in at least five different developments in town.
As these developments expand, they’ll provide the inventory needed for many years.
Potential home buyers need to keep talking with real-estate agents and builders about the types of homes they want to buy. If you want a split-level home, ask for one. If you prefer having amenities nearby, push for mixed-use development.
Believe me, the home builders in town want to build what consumers want to buy.
Again, no, the city should not buy and sell land or build homes to ease the housing shortage. The city already has taken steps to ease the shortage and continues to look for ways to make home ownership more affordable.
It’ll take time for these steps to work, but ultimately the housing market will correct.
We will continue to look for ways to cut costs and pass the savings on to home purchasers. But the city is not a developer and has no business acting as one. Let’s leave the home building and land development to those who do it best.
Sande represents Ward 6 on the Grand Forks City Council. He was a member of the mayor’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Housing.