Officials alarmed by magnitude of housing crunch in Crookston

    Two years ago, CHEDA Executive Director Craig Hoiseth told his board of directors Tuesday, there were more than 100 homes for sale in Crookston.

    Today, that number has shrunk to a measly 13, a number that alarmed board members around the table who spend most of their time focusing on initiatives meant to make Crookston grow.

    Crookston School District Superintendent Chris Bates said the current lack of available homes to purchase or at least rent has in recent years and continues to plague the district has it tries to fill vacant teaching positions. The three top candidates for the chemistry teaching position at the high school have all turned down job offers in recent days, Bates noted, mostly because they haven't been able to find a place to live in Crookston.

    Of the 13 available homes, Hoiseth said, a handful cost below $90,000 and some of those five are in need of major work just to make them habitable and code-compliant. Four of the 13 are priced at more than $200,000, and a couple of those are priced well over $200,000. The rest are in the $140,000 to $160,000 range, he said.

    Add to that tiny number of homes an "intensely tight" local rental housing market that basically has a zero vacancy rate, Hoiseth said, and it means Crookston is experiencing an official housing crunch.

    "We has a CHEDA board need to be aware that not everyone can afford a quarter-million dollar house, and not everyone can afford nor has the time to buy a $50,000 house that needs major repairs just to get up to code," Hoiseth said. "There's very little stock and very little opportunity to buy or even rent in Crookston. It's a real problem. No houses for sale and no apartments to rent means no population growth in Crookston. The opportunity to move to Crookston is not an easy one."

    The U of M Crookston once again is looking to hire several new faculty over the summer. Bates said he remembered his days as a teacher in Crookston's public schools many years ago and how the children of UMC faculty and staff attended school here and played sports and their families were a big part of the community. "But if the new faculty they're looking for can't find anything here, they're going to live elsewhere," Bates said, adding that many new, younger teachers in the local school district live in Grand Forks and elsewhere, too, largely because housing options in Crookston are so limited. "If we had more choices for them, some of them might join our community."

    Ward 1 City Council member Tom Jorgens said that not addressing the housing shortage isn't an option. Not only will the Crookston population remain stagnant if nothing is done, he said, it will likely decrease. "The implications of what we're hearing are quite profound," he said. "If we are static in terms of our housing stock, that's worse than no growth, that means a likely retraction in our population."

    While things are happening – 29 new or renovated housing units were added in Crookston in 2014, and efforts are underway to add 30 town home units in 2016 – the recent comprehensive Crookston housing study indicated that at least 180 housing units of all varieties are needed immediately.

    So 29 probably isn't enough, Jorgens said. "We've gone from a period of pretty good momentum on development to a place where we're pretty static," he said. "It's going to take investment; this is not going to happen by some kind of miracle. It's going to take hard work."

    Ward 6 City Council Member Tom Vedbraaten said it's possible the city isn't being aggressive enough. At a recent community forum at which the predominant topic of conversation was the city's potential interest in selling some Hoven Lane Park land for new home construction, city officials heard more than anything from citizens who attended that they don't want the city competing with private developers who are trying to sell residential lots or build residential homes for sale.

    "We heard people complaining about the city competing with private interests, but the only people it seems like are doing anything in this area is the city," Vedbraaten said. "If we do something, then the people who own lots get mad because we're competing with them. But if we don't do anything, then we're sitting stagnant."

    City Administrator Shannon Stassen said adding 29 housing units last year is a "decent chunk." But, he added, "we need lots of big chunks" to get to 180.