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Published March 14, 2013, 08:11 AM

Housing tight all around Grand Forks area

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- While Grand Forks leaders continue to examine a citywide housing shortage, surrounding communities have found themselves in a similar situation.

By: Brandi Jewett, Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS, N.D. -- While Grand Forks leaders continue to examine a citywide housing shortage, surrounding communities have found themselves in a similar situation.

Grand Forks County officials met with representatives from Grand Forks Air Force Base and several cities in North Dakota and Minnesota Wednesday to get an understanding of what their neighbors’ housing inventories look like.

“It’s critical for us to know what’s going on regionally,” said County Commissioner John Schmisek. “If we don’t do it all together, it won’t work.”

Representatives discussed their community’s available stock of homes and lots, future building or expansion plans, and if incentives are used to entice new homebuyers or builders.

The news from each of the towns was similar: houses are going fast, some lots tend to sit for years and landowners are unwilling to sell farmland for housing development.

Base supply

A housing shortage at the base has affected all of the communities present at the meeting, with representatives saying military have moved into their communities for lack of closer housing options.

“We’re 100 percent occupied,” said Chris Powell, the base’s housing manager. “We’re hoping to see Grand Forks keep building.”

He said another 100 personnel are expected to arrive within the coming months. The current wait-time for housing on the base is six months to one year.

A proposed unmanned aircraft technology park and a potential tanker mission could bring hundreds if not thousands of jobs — and people — to the area in the next decade, making the housing market even tighter.

New personnel and their families arriving in the region are finding a competitive housing market.

In Grand Forks, there are between 45 and 60 homes on the market at any given time, according to Emily Wright, executive administrator of the Grand Forks Housing Authority. She said that number should be closer to 200.

Homes selling for less than $200,000 remain on the market for about 18 to 36 hours, she said.

N.D. market

The same fast pace can be observed in housing markets outside of the city in rural North Dakota.

There are currently three homes for sale in Thompson, N.D., according to Mayor Karyn Hippen. “They’ll be gone within the week.”

The town also has 21 single-family lots and 14 twin-home lots available, priced between $35,000 and $40,000, including all special assessments except street paving. Further expansion is dependent on landowners opening up farmland, according to Hippen.

To the west, Larimore and Hatton, N.D., face similar situations.

Hatton Economic Development Corp. member Scott Cranston reported the city has 10 lots available for $10,000 to $13,000 with special assessments paid for by the city. Another seven or eight homes are for sale.

Larimore has about nine lots available at $35,000. For those who don’t want to build, three houses are on the market and won’t last long there, according to Larimore City Council member David Garton.

Minn. market

Across the border in Fisher, Minn., two or three homes are on the market for $150,000 or less and one lot is selling for $9,000, according to city Treasurer Amy Theis. Fewer than six rental units are open in the city.

Like the North Dakota towns, Fisher’s growth is constrained by landowners, Theis said.

“That sugar beet land is just too valuable,” she said. “Nobody wants to part with it.”

In East Grand Forks, a number of lots are available for those willing to build a new home. More than 130 lots are available for single-family homes, according to Jim Richter, executive director of the city’s Economic Development and Housing Authority. Another 23 are open to twin homes.

A barrier to getting new homes built in the area is the sticker shock, according to Richter. Those looking to build a new home often see $300,000 to $400,000 in construction costs before adding in the price of land and special assessments.

“People say they just need to get over the sticker shock. What if they don’t get over the sticker shock?” Richter said. “Then you’re not getting anything built.”

East Grand Forks Mayor Lynn Stauss said the city has low and middle-income homes, but with people unable to afford to move on to their “dream home” they’re staying put in starter homes and apartments.

Call Jewett at (701) 780-1108; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1108; or send email to