North Dakota Housing Finance Agency (NDHFA) Executive Director Jolene Kline will retire on July 1st. To honor her 34 years of service, the agency will host an Open House on Wednesday, June 26, from 3 to 5 p.m. at its Bismarck office, 2624 Vermont Ave.
A genuine advocate of affordable housing for all North Dakotans, Kline championed numerous state and federal initiatives, bolstering diversified housing options. During her tenure as executive director, NDHFA became the go-to for housing across the state through expanded programming and collaborative partnerships.
For 30 years the agency was primarily known for making homeownership affordable despite having the ability to finance multifamily loans and taking on management of the Section 8 Housing Assistance Program (HAP) a full year before it issued its first single-family program bonds. Expanding the housing focus exemplified NDHFA as a mission-driven agency.
From the Beginning
“When I started a job at NDHFA, I never imagined it would be my career. The opportunities, the challenges and the successes made the years fly by,” said Kline.
Kline began working at NDHFA in 1985 as an eligibility technician for HAP. She moved up a couple years later, working in Section 8 Contract Administration as a program specialist. In 1990, she became the agency’s Low Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program administrator.
The federal LIHTC program is the largest producer of affordable housing for low-income households both nationally and in North Dakota. Since the program began in 1986, NDHFA has allocated $58 million in tax credits resulting in the production or rehabilitation of more than 8,200 rental units in 61 communities statewide. The private capital investment in North Dakota is valued at over $500 million.
On the LIHTC program’s 25th anniversary, Kline was recognized by the National Equity Fund and the National Council of State Housing Agencies for her years of successful program administration.
When the agency’s planning and housing development division was formed in 2006, Kline, by now an expert in affordable multifamily development, was selected as the first director and was charged with carrying out a strategy to address the state’s housing challenges.
She developed programs and employed innovative ideas to address workforce and senior housing shortages and the rehab of the state’s existing housing stock while providing technical assistance to communities struggling to address their housing needs.
In early 2009, the agency released a report that illustrated a rapidly growing housing affordability gap in North Dakota. Median home values in the state had increased more than 20 percent from 2005 to 2007, while household income had only grown 6.6 percent. Most households had an income that allowed them to rent, but it was increasingly difficult for lower-income individuals and families to afford housing in urban and energy-impacted areas.
Citing the need for adequate housing to build a quality workforce and retain population NDHFA’s planning division, led by Kline, launched a Rural Housing Investment Incentive Pilot Program (RHIIPP). The program supported housing development or substantial rehab in difficult to develop areas by offering a dollar for dollar match for private sector investment. NDHFA utilized $400,000 of its own reserve funds for the program. It was deemed a resounding success, leveraging more than $6.6 million in housing activity in rural communities.
During the 62nd Legislative Assembly, lawmakers wanted to replicate the success of the agency’s pilot program on a larger scale resulting in the creation of the Housing Incentive Fund (HIF). The agency was authorized to accept taxpayer contributions to the fund up to $15 million with the money used to assist in the development of affordable multi-family housing. One year after the session ended, NDHFA marked the completion of the first HIF funded project, the Divide Vista Apartments in Crosby, ND.
Shortly after the first HIF project was completed, a Statewide Housing Needs Assessment released by North Dakota State University’s Center for Social Research projected significant population growth and increased demand for housing across North Dakota through 2025. Community leaders, housing experts, industry representatives, and local and state lawmakers rallied to create more housing options as the state’s population grew exponentially.
Appointment as Executive Director
Following the retirement of NDHFA Executive Director Mike Anderson in June 2013, the North Dakota Industrial Commission appointed Kline as the acting executive director. Six months later, citing her outstanding affordable housing advocacy, the commission made the appointment permanent. As the organization’s lead, Kline now would oversee 43 employees and more than $800 million in assets.
Kline’s first success as executive director was realized a month after her appointment. During the preceding legislative session, NDHFA received an allocation of $15.4 million from the general fund and was authorized to capitalize $20 million in state income tax credits for HIF. The relationships Kline had forged resulted in the program being fully funded in less than half the authorized period of time, allowing the agency to begin investing the funds much sooner than expected into the affordable housing units the state desperately needed.
From 2011 to 2018, HIF provided $89.8 million in gap financing to build and rehabilitate more than 2,500 rental units across North Dakota. The total development costs exceeding $443 million.
“The projects HIF supported address behavioral health and criminal justice issues while ensuring North Dakota’s aging and disabled households and lower-wage workers have safe and affordable housing,” said Kline. “By providing our most vulnerable state residents with a home, we reduce the overall burden placed on our communities and state.”
HIF has been hailed for its ability to address changing housing market demands in both urban and rural communities, strong community buy-in, cost-effectiveness and the ability to target the state’s greatest needs. The program was recognized in 2013 for its merit by the National Council of State Housing Agencies and in 2014 for its compellingly innovative approach by the Urban Land Institute.
The success brought recognition to Kline as well. In 2016, PRAIRIE BUSINESS MAGAZINE featured her as one of the region’s “Top 25 Women in Business.” She was also asked to present locally and nationally on HIF; the program has become a model for affordable housing development in states and communities across the country.
NDHFA’s Changing Role
What wasn’t openly discussed but became more and more obvious with each HIF project completed was that the program had community leaders, lenders and service providers looking at NDHFA with new eyes. If the state agency could bring more affordable multifamily housing to the table, what other roles could it play in addressing the state’s single-family housing challenges.
The agency’s North Dakota Roots program, once limited to new and returning households, loosened its eligibility restrictions, now available to any household earning up to 140 percent of Area Median Income. The change has provided hundreds of state residents struggling to achieve homeownership with access to NDHFA’s affordable interest rate loans and down payment and closing cost assistance.
Population growth and a thriving economy intensified resources needed for vulnerable populations. NDHFA took on the administration of the National Housing Trust Fund which provided the agency with revenue to support the development of housing for extremely low-income households including homeless individuals and families. Around this time, the agency also was approached by the City of Minot for help administering the affordable housing portion of its National Disaster Resilience Program after the city survived devastating flooding.
Persons experiencing recidivism was taking a toll on state resources in addition to individuals and families. A new relationship with the state’s Dept. of Human Services led NDHFA to establish a Landlord Risk Mitigation Fund, providing households with a rental barrier, poor credit, prior rental history or a criminal conviction, the opportunity to access housing. Ensuring housing stability is vital to future independence.
In Kline’s last year as executive director, three more milestones were reached. In 2018, the homeownership division had a record-breaking year, purchasing 1,798 FirstHome loans with a total value of more than $300 million, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s National Servicing Center ranked NDHFA as a Tier 1 Federal Housing Administration loan. During the 66th Legislative Assembly, after going a full biennium without funding, a $7.5 million general fund appropriation was made to HIF and development restrictions were lessened providing the program with greater flexibility.
Kline’s six-year tenure as NDHFA’s executive director has changed the public, agency partners and community leaders’ perceptions of what the state’s Housing Finance Agency could and should be.
“As I officially end this chapter of my life and my time here NDHFA,” said Kline. “I hope that I, alongside the NDHFA team, was successful in making a positive difference in someone’s life every day.”