Minot Housing Authority plans to operate a temporary-housing group site southeast of Minot as a low-income mobile-home park if the final funding mechanism falls into place.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., held a news conference Tuesday with Minot Mayor Curt Zimbelman to discuss the long-term future of the Federal Emergency Management Agency's Virgil Workman Village as well as the future of downtown Minot.
Currently, about 450 temporary housing units belonging to FEMA remain in place at Virgil Workman Village to serve residents displaced by the 2011 Souris River flood. Hoeven said FEMA is willing to donate 250 units to the housing authority so low-income residents those earning less than $30,000 a year can continue to live in the units. FEMA is working with residents of the other 200 units on purchase agreements for their units.
Nathan Smith, owner of the Virgil Workman Village property, explains the development plans to Sen. John Hoeven Tuesday during a visit to the village.
In January, FEMA will begin charging rent for the units, based on a household's ability to pay. Typically, residents won't be charged more than 30 percent of their incomes. Once FEMA closes out its operation in June, the transition to ownership and the housing authority would occur.
However, the housing authority has federal vouchers to fund only half of the units that it is proposed to get. To afford the lot rent for all 250 units, the housing authority will need either federal or state assistance, Hoeven said.
"We need to have this all put in place within the next six months," he said. "Everybody is committed to getting it done, and we have made a lot of progress."
While the city works with federal and state agencies to get the funding, it also is moving ahead to annex the property into city limits. The city plans to upgrade the lighting, pave streets and add curb and gutter in in the village using federal Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery dollars.
Zimbelman said the city was looking at using CDBG money to develop land for affordable housing, and this project offered a solution that could get that housing in place quickly.
FEMA also will upgrade the sewer system as requested by the city before it turns over the units. Tom Carroll, recovery division director with FEMA in Denver, said the number of units to be donated to the housing authority will depend on the housing need that still exists next June. FEMA currently has about 900 units occupied at group sites in Minot and Burlington and on private sites.
"The strategy that we are pursuing would be to look at a donation at some point and being able to turn that mission over. We know that there still will be occupied units, and those disaster survivors need to be taken care of," Carroll said.
Nathan Smith, who owns the property, wants to develop affordable housing in vacated areas of the village, which once housed 600 units. With the infrastructure provided by FEMA and the city, the cost of bringing housing into the area will be reduced, he said. Striving to meet a need rather than capitalizing on the market, he said he hopes to be able to offer homes more in the price range that existed in Minot some years ago, before housing pressures drove costs up.
"We should be able to work out a project that provides a solution to some of the housing problems we have in this community," he said.
The plans include a diversion of natural drainage around neighboring housing developments to avoid compounding existing water problems with runoff from the development. Smith said some of that work already has started.
Tom Pearson, executive director of the housing authority, said the intent would be to move people from the temporary units into the permanent, affordable housing as it becomes available.
Meanwhile, downtown Minot could get a boost from $18 million in disaster recovery funds from the federal Economic Development Agency.
Hoeven reported that the agency has given preliminary approval to assist with downtown infrastructure improvements but final approval, if given, won't come until possibly February, after an environmental assessment is completed. The assessment is required because of the project's federal involvement, both with EDA and $5.3 million in CDBG disaster funds for infrastructure and parking lots.
Zimbelman said infrastructure improvements are critical in getting a developer to consider the downtown area.
"It's just a tremendous opportunity for our downtown to look at all new infrastructure," he said, noting that it will facilitate the $140 million Imagine Minot project.
Steve Carrigan, general manager of EID Passport, described plans that are under way to build more housing and retail shops downtown. Carrigan spoke on behalf of Steve Larson, owner of EID and also of Cypress Development, which is developing the multi-phase Imagine Minot project.
Currently, the old racquetball courts in former YMCA building, where EID is located, are being remodeled into condominiums. A former clinic building on that same block was removed and an apartment building is to be constructed next year.