'A complex issue': Becker County faces climbing housing shortage
Becker County's need for housing is climbing. Recent studies have shown that it's quickly become one of the top needs in the county—and the shortage isn't just affecting one demographic. The need is all across the board.
"Everybody needs housing to the point where we can't even keep up," said Becker County Energize Coordinator Karen Pifher, adding that the housing demand is high for renters, single-income families, seniors, low-income families, and long-term homeless families and individuals.
At a certain point, she and others working on a housing initiative in the area had to choose where they could do the most good right now, and they decided to get started on low-income housing after digging a little deeper into the needs and realizing the cost burden of owning a home in Becker County is not sustainable for many families, particularly those currently working—or moving to the area to take—any of the top five jobs in demand in the area.
"When we looked at the top five jobs that are in demand in Becker County, none of them except for one pays enough to own a home," said Pifher.
The "vacant job wage" is approximately $31,000 per year, while the median home price in Becker County is $175,000 or an approximately $1,189 per month mortgage, vastly unaffordable for someone making $31,000 per year.
According to the study, people making the vacant job wage can afford a home that costs $832 per month, but there aren't enough of those homes on the market.
Then there are people making less than the vacant job wage, stuck at minimum wage and unable to afford anything that costs more than $720 per month, and there are even fewer homes listed at that price on the market.
People aren't able to move to the area to take these jobs because they can't find an affordable home, but people currently living in the area—whether they are renting or they own a home—are also feeling the pressure. More than 53 percent of renters have a cost burden and are paying substantially more than 30 percent of their income on housing, according to a recent housing study. As for homeowners, 600 in the area also reported a cost burden.
"There's some things that we can't control. We can't change federal regulations, and we can't make housing cheaper just because we want to," said Pifher.
Rather, the affordable housing committee began working on—and just launched—the HOME program, which allows moderate and low-income families to buy a home without money upfront. The program provides down-payment and closing-cost assistance in the form of a loan. There are no monthly payments or interest accrued on the loan; however, it must be paid back when the home is sold or at the end of the first mortgage.
The committee knows it's just a step, but it's a step in the right direction.
"(Providing affordable housing) is really a complex issue that no one can fix overnight," said Pifher, adding, "We really look in general at what are the ways that we can make a difference locally?"
Another step towards providing affordable housing is coming in the form of a 30-unit townhome on Pelican Lane in Detroit Lakes, developed by D.W. Jones properties.
Fifteen of the units will be at 50 percent rent limit and 14 units will be at 60 percent rent limit, potentially providing income-based living for 29 families. (One unit will be reserved for the townhomes future caretaker and will not be income-restricted.)
The two-bedroom units will rent for $719 to $773 per month and the three-bedroom units will rent for $828 to $874 per month.
Of the 29 income-restricted units, four will be reserved for families on rental assistance and four will be reserved for families who qualify as long-term homeless.
The project groundbreaking will be held Wednesday, Oct. 17 at 1 p.m. It has been bid out to Voronyak Builders out of Bertram, Minnesota, and is expected to take 10 months to complete.