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JDA looking forward to positive Chalmers outcome

By Staff | Aug 9, 2019

Sue Sitter/PCT Signs from local realtors advertise lots for sale in Rugby's Chalmers Addition, which is owned by the Rugby Job Development Agency.

Although a land purchase by the Rugby Job Development Authority has sparked criticism from taxpayers since the deal was finalized nearly eight years ago, current JDA Executive Director Liz Heisey looks forward to a positive outcome.

Heisey told the Tribune housing availability is key to attracting workers to fill numerous job openings in Rugby. The Chalmers Addition housing development on the east side of town was purchased by the JDA and city to address the need to accommodate workers moving to Rugby. The land was purchased and annexed to Rugby during the height of the oil boom, when flooding in Minot compounded an already critical housing shortage in North Dakota.

Heisey noted purchases of land parcels from Buddy and Bette Chalmers as well as smaller pieces of neighboring properties amounted to more than $120,000. Initial prices for the lots were “$7,500, with assumption of the City’s special assessments placed upon the property.”

Because of an oil industry slowdown, drops in housing market prices and heavy rains that impacted land east of Rugby, Heisey said investors dropped out of housing development in the area. The JDA revamped sales strategies and conditions to drive sales in the slower economic climate.

Heisey and current JDA board members did not serve on the board when the Chalmers land was purchased and annexed.

The City of Rugby now pays off special assessments on the lots at the close of sales-an incentive added in 2017 to attract buyers. Lots are sold at market value. Heisey noted the special assessments include “the City’s cost for infrastructure including streets, water lines, sewer lines and lift stations and storm water drains.”

“Workforce attraction has remained a priority for Rugby for many years,” Heisey said. “Workforce attraction and housing go hand in hand.”

Because Rugby and Pierce County lack a housing authority of their own, government agencies such as the JDA step in to meet the need for affordable dwellings in the community.

Heisey noted, “Some of the county commissioners are on the state housing board, and they contract with the Minot Housing Authority, but we don’t have an active group in Rugby that was promoting building houses, so the JDA has stepped in.”

“We have a lot of gaps in Rugby, because we’re small,” she added. “We don’t have a lot of organizations to cover all these community needs. So, the JDA has been approached at several different levels to help address these gaps in the community.”

Housing remains a crucial gap to fill.

Heisey said the JDA uses sales tax revenues from the City of Rugby to support all aspects of job development.

“Number one, (the funds are used for) economic development, so that’s a whole array of different things that come in line with that,” Heisey noted. “So, we work on workforce attraction; providing available housing for those workers; we need available housing for those workers, but where are they going to live?”

Heisey said the Chalmers Addition would answer the need for affordable housing in two ways.

“Properties around the tower block three,” Heisey noted, pointing to a map of the northwestern corner of the housing development “These are all zoned so you can put apartment homes in them.”

“And the towers have no effect on building multi-family.”

Heisey said lots one through four on block five are also available for multi-family housing units.

The Chalmers Addition would also create affordable housing options when those purchasing lots sell their former homes.

“A lot of times, new construction frees up existing homes,” Heisey explained.

“They always talk about affordable housing, so in order to have affordable housing like $100,000 to $180,000 homes it costs probably $325,000 to build a new home.

And the only way to free up that existing housing stock is to encourage (present homeowners) to take that next step up maybe people are more established in their jobs and are ready to take the next step they’re probably the ones that are going to be purchasing new homes. But in turn, that frees up existing home stock.”

Heisey said of the 52 lots that were part of the original development, 14 have been sold, with 38 remaining.

Although the oil boom has slowed down in recent years, job shortages in North Dakota and a lack of housing options linger.

“It (the Chalmers Addition purchase) was speculative,” Heisey acknowledged. “They (former JDA board members and investors) really did think the boom was going to come this way. But the nice thing was we didn’t have the bust like a lot of the communities did. We did have a little bit of the boom, but we’re a very stable community, and we’ve continued to grow, and we are growing, obviously.”

Bob Houim of Brokers 12 Real Estate described Rugby’s housing market as “stable.” “We have 10 sales pending [around the community] now; that’s a big plus for Rugby.”

An economic forecast presented to North Dakota legislators that was cited in the Bismarck Tribune in March predicted a national economic downturn in 2020. A representative from Moody’s Analytics presented the forecast to legislators discussing Governor Doug Burgum’s proposed budget, noting the 2020 slowdown would help North Dakota fill present job shortages and help the state’s economy as more people move to the state.

On a local level, Heisey said the Chalmers Addition and housing options would fit into the JDA’s focus: “Jobs, jobs and more jobs.”

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