North Dakotans: Affordable housing is the state’s top overall need

(Mike Moen – Prairie News Service) — More than 65% of North Dakotans say housing is the state’s biggest overall need. That’s according to new community-level survey data.

The findings are from the latest needs assessment issued by Community Action Partnership of North Dakota, which gathered feedback from more than 3,000 residents.

For low-income respondents, rental assistance is the biggest priority. CAP ND’s Executive Director Andrea Olson said that’s not surprising because it mirrors the calls for assistance at CAP’s regional offices.

But she said respondents, regardless of income, agree that housing overall tops all other categories. She said it underscores the scope of the problem and the obstacles families are facing.

“We know that there’s North Dakotans who are in need,” Olson said. “We know that these are folks who are often gainfully employed and just still can’t make the ends meet.”

An interim legislative committee is studying housing barriers, and the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency reports nearly 40 percent of renters are spending at least a third of their income on housing.

With these details coming together, and the state’s pandemic-related ND Rent Help program due to expire next year, Olson said it would be disappointing to not see a long-term solution.

Access to food and mental health services also cited as major needs

Beyond housing, access to food has moved up to second on the needs list for low-income North Dakotans. Inflation has cooled, but Olson said it’s clear households are finding it difficult to get everything they need.

“A grocery cart that used to cost $150 is now $200,” Olson said.

Meanwhile, non-low-income respondents cited mental health services as their top specific need. Provider shortages, especially in rural areas, have been well documented in light of the pandemic.

The needs assessment includes statewide and regional data, with project leaders saying the results can inform all levels of government when responding to these issues.

LCD Group not surprised by assessment findings

LCD Group, through CommunityWorks North Dakoa, is the state’s only chartered NeighborWorks America (NWA) organization. The organization is taking the lead in creating and providing affordable housing throughout North Dakota.

LCD Group Executive Director Brent Ekstrom is not surprised by the assessment findings.

“Many North Dakotans do not understand the scope and depth of the affordable housing problem,” said Ekstrom. “CAP ND’s assessment puts into more personal terms and confirms what other recent studies have found, which is affordable housing is a significant challenge in North Dakota.” 

Earlier this spring, the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency released studies that found North Dakota has only 12,065 affordable and available rental homes. The state needs another 13,000 more homes. 

“I’m glad the Legislature is studying barriers to housing but, as I’ve said before, to tackle this challenge is going to require an organized collaborative approach by our state’s  political leaders, lenders, and developers.” 

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