At a Glance
Grand Forks, ND
Building and managing affordable-housing units and offering client services to help low-income residents
Not everyone can brag that their work is improving the lives of others, but employees of the Grand Forks Housing Authority (GFHA) can proudly say that they have directly helped more than 2,000 low-income families by building them affordable homes. Founded in 1967, the GFHA in Grand Forks, North Dakota, continues to grow year after year. The company recently acquired two more properties to manage, totaling 34 units, and it also added two resident-service coordinators to better provide clients with assistance. The GFHA currently manages 811 units, providing affordable homes to about 1,500 residents, and it’s doing as much as it can to make life easier for those it serves.
Creating homes that are comfortable but still affordable isn’t always an easy task. The GFHA partners with the city of Grand Forks to use HUD Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) and HOME Investment Partnerships funds to subsidize construction costs, and it also applies for assistance from other federal agencies. Most recently, the GFHA’s efforts helped establish the Grand Forks Community Land Trust. “This partnership will provide additional subsidy, allowing Housing Choice Voucher Homeownership families of all sizes to purchase in the Grand Forks area—rather than just [families] large enough to qualify for high payment standards,” GFHA executive director Terry Hanson says.
In terms of construction, the GFHA keeps its designs simple and high-density so that funding is used more efficiently. “Future burdensome expenses are also a factor when building for low-income families,” Hanson says. “We always consider maintenance and utility costs when building new homes and lean toward the amenities that are most practical rather than those that are most striking.” For example, Hanson notes that high ceilings are attractive but waste heat.
While keeping homes affordable, GFHA is still able to incorporate sustainable features into almost every project. Prior to the early 1990s, the organization’s philosophy was simply to provide a basic, safe, and sanitary living unit. When management changed hands, though, there was a renewed effort to improve the quality of life of the family residing in the unit.
The GFHA also continually seeks new tactics to keep homes affordable, and recently it implemented the Housing Choice Voucher Home Ownership program mentioned above, which allows families to use their monthly monetary assistance toward a mortgage payment rather than a monthly rent payment. “For many families, this was their final step toward self-sufficiency,” Hanson says. Quality of life is about more than a roof over one’s head, though, so the GHFA has resident-service coordinators at eight of its properties, too—and a family self-sufficiency program and four neighborhood network centers improve resident’s lives even further.
The need for affordable housing will never disappear, especially in these difficult economic times. Therefore, the GFHA is constantly building and acquiring new properties. Coming up, it’s assisting in the development of a 30-unit HUD Section 202 elderly property known as Cherrywood Village, which is the first Section 202 project being developed in Grand Forks since the early 1980s. The GFHA will manage the property for the owner, and it’s sure to carry its campaign for better residential care into the new space. ABQ