North Dakota’s affordable housing problems a result from a “perfect storm”

Affordable housing continues to grow as a challenge for individuals and communities throughout North Dakota.

Demand for affordable housing is being driven in large part to a perfect storm. As baby boomers start to retire, more and more people 65 and older are downsizing at the same time as younger individuals are entering the workforce. Many in these populations are on fixed incomes.

Fixed Incomes Doesn’t Mean Low Income

But don’t think this means they are classified as low income or poor. As Jennifer Henderson, director of planning and housing at the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency, notes, affordable housing doesn’t necessarily mean low income.

“A community has to have affordable housing. That means a variety of housing options both in the ownership and rental opportunities, and they need to be available for households of all income levels,” said Henderson.

That’s a problem for many North Dakota communities. The 2022 North Dakota Statewide Housing Needs Assessment found the state’s housing market to be overpriced for many with rental units more expensive than ever.

Homeownership rates in North Dakota dropped from 78 percent in 2010 to 60 percent in 2020 for North Dakota households earning between $50,000 to $74,999. For those households earning between $35,000 to $49,999 in this same period, ownership rates went from 64 percent to 51 percent.

What’s more, the average home price rose by eight percent while gross rent grew by twice the rate of inflation form $555 per month in 2010 to $828 in 2020.

Henderson says households should pay no more than 30% of their income per month on a place to live.

Bismarck is a Prime Example of the Challenge

Bismarck is a case in point. The capital city’s population continues to grow. From 2010 to 2020, the total number of available housing units in Bismarck grew by nearly 22 percent. But it’s not enough.

For many the wait for available and affordable housing is too long. Just ask the Burleigh County Housing Authority which helps families and individuals find government-subsidized and affordable housing. Out of 1,191 Section Eight vouchers, 850 are filled.

“It used to be two to three years long; now we are down to about six months is the waiting list. And right now, we have about 450 families on that waiting list,” said Nicole Schurhamer, executive director of the Burleigh County Housing Authority.

“That’s vouchers, meaning that it might be one single individual, it might be a family of six. So, if you take 1,191, I mean we serve almost 1,800 to 2,000 people just here, families here in Burleigh County alone,” adds Schurhamer.

North Dakota Needs 13,000 More Affordable Rental Units

The North Dakota Housing Finance Agency is expecting to see an increase in households in the extremely low to low-income range in the upcoming years. A 2025 projection says that number will grow by almost 11 percent from 2020.

Lewis & Clark Development Group has taken a leading role in providing affordable housing in North Dakota. Through its property management services, LCD Group either owns or manages more than 500 units throughout the state.

LCD Group Executive Director Brent Ekstrom says the organization’s work is making a difference but much more must be done.

Citing statistics, Ekstrom says the state needs around 13,000 additional affordable rental units and many of these must be multi-family in nature to meet demand.

“This challenge will not resolve itself. Without a clear commitment by state and local leaders and the creation of public-private partnerships, North Dakota’s affordable housing challenge will only get worse.”


Credits & Sources: Additional information and some quotes for this story are from NBC North Dakota News.

Lewis & Clark Development Group, through CommunityWorks North Dakota, is the only chartered NeighborWorks America (NWA) organization in North Dakota. Jennifer Henderson and Nicole Schurhamer are both members of CommunityWorks North Dakota’s Board of Directors.