We’re now a month after city elections and both new and experienced leaders are taking their seats at commission tables all across North Dakota. Looking back at the June campaigns, one thing struck me – without a doubt affordable housing is still at the top of minds in nearly every community.
It wasn’t just oil patch towns where the housing discussion bubbled up, but in cities large and small in every corner of the state. There were some candidates who ran specifically because they were concerned about affordable housing in their town. Whether those folks won or lost, broaching the subject made other candidates, city officials and everyday citizens recognize the importance cities play in housing.
As the state’s housing agency, we are charged with helping to facilitate homeownership opportunities, provide rental assistance for low-income households and offer financing options for housing development. We do that through a number of programs and with the support of both private and public partners.
Cities are one of those crucial allies and nearly always we require that there is local support from city commissions before we will provide development funds. We do that because cities control the building process. Without at least an initial acceptance of the concept from cities, we don’t want to commit funds to projects that may not materialize. Our development resources are stretched thin and therefore are highly competitive. If a project can’t get what it needs from city leaders, it could not only impact that community, but other communities where the next projects in line are located.
We work with the League of Cities and Economic Development Association to bring housing topics to their annual conferences and to include city and economic development leaders in our annual Statewide Housing Conference. We also work to provide technical assistance to communities on what it takes to develop affordable housing. Whether it is convening a roundtable meeting or providing a Housing Market Survey grant, NDHFA strives to be a helping hand because we know housing can’t get built without community engagement and buy-in.
One of the challenges that developers often face is worry and pushback from neighbors about what a project will mean to them in terms of property value, traffic flow and who the new neighbors will be. These are reasonable concerns, but often attitudes toward affordable housing projects can harden due to a lack of information and understanding. The most successful projects foster a good “understanding” not just by informing citizens about what a project will look like, but also learning the particular needs and wants of the community in very human terms and sharing that with them too. Sometimes though, city commissioners and mayors have to make tough decisions to balance the concerns of the neighborhood and the need to provide additional affordable housing options in their community.
That’s why when affordable housing comes up in the public dialogue at election time, I feel encouraged. It’s easy to acknowledge that “We need more housing,” but city leaders recognizing their unique and substantial role in making good projects happen is half the battle.
I want to congratulate all those newly elected city officials and extend an invitation to them to call on us to be partners as we continue to address the affordable housing situation right there where they live, work and raise their families. It is only by working together that we will get the job done.
NDHFA executive director