- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 26, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota’s population will grow to 891,000 people by 2029, a 20 percent increase that will increase the need for more affordable housing for low-income residents, according to a new study.

Jolene Kline, the state Housing Finance Agency’s executive director, told the state Industrial Commission on Tuesday that the North Dakota economy is still strong, despite a downturn in oil and crop prices, and that it will continue to put pressure on the poorest residents, many of whom have seen their rents rise dramatically as competition for housing has intensified.

The study, which was commissioned by the agency and conducted by researchers at North Dakota State University, found that statewide demand for low-income housing will increase about 25 percent over the next 13 years. A draft was presented Tuesday to the three-member, all-Republican commission, which includes Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring.

Housing prices in Mandan and Minot have nearly doubled in the past decade, while home prices in Bismarck have increased by about $100,000 during that time, Kline said.

High housing costs “are shutting people out of home ownership,” said Kline, whose agency offers low-interest loans to qualifying homebuyers.

The study, which is expected to be finalized this week, said North Dakota’s urban centers will see the most growth through 2029. Kline told reporters the region that includes Jamestown and Valley City is the only area of the state where the population is predicted to decline over that time, as more people are expected to migrate to bigger cities in search of a better economy and services.

Lawmakers have attempted to address low-income housing needs in North Dakota, including approving a program that gives individual and business donors a dollar-for-dollar tax credit to subsidize the construction of affordable dwellings for the poor and seniors, teachers, law enforcement officers, emergency workers and others whose salaries aren’t nearly equal to those of oil workers.

To date, the program has given about $62 million in tax credits, with most of the write-offs coming from financial institutions and large corporations that include energy companies.

Kline said the use the study provides information about how much, and what kind, of housing North Dakota will need during the next decade, and “at what level” the low-income housing incentive program is funded.

Kline also told Industrial Commission members that the number homeless people in North Dakota has dropped to a four-year low. She said 923 homeless people were counted this year during a survey done in January. She said that’s down from a record 2,069 homeless people counted during a similar survey done in 2013.

“It looks like it is trending in the right direction, at least,” Dalrymple said.

The governor said he believed drug abuse and mental illness was at “the core” of homelessness and “needs to be addressed” with more emphasis on social service programs.

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