The city of Moorhead is laying plans to buy half of a low-income townhome project in north Moorhead, then give current tenants to opportunity to purchase them on affordable terms.
The city council Monday approved the plan, which has been in the works along with the Moorhead Public Housing Agency for more than a year. Each entity will purchase 17 of the 34 units located on 11th Street and 17th Avenue North. They will then offer current renters the option of purchasing the one- and two-story units they now occupy at an affordable price equal to no more than the rent they now pay.
Governmental affairs director Lisa Bode told council members – all of them gathered in a virtual meeting from their homes – that the agreement that awarded the Southhill Group tax credits to build the affordable housing project more than 15 years ago gives the city the right of first refusal to buy them at the end of that term for the purpose of eventual tenant ownership. The price amounts to $540,000, about one-third of their assessed value.
The Moorhead Public Housing Agency, she said, plans to acquire the remaining 17 townhomes from the builder at slightly less favorable terms. The assessed value of each unit is $96,500; they’ll be bought for about $32,000 each. “We have an opportunity to capture any equity when they are sold and invest it in other affordable housing,” she noted.
Community development program administrator Joshua Huffman explained that no tenant will be displaced by the opportunity for ownership. “They can continue to rent on the same basis they are now, if that’s what they prefer,” he told the council. If a tenant leaves, the new renter will have to live there for six months before becoming eligible to buy. Educational sessions will be offered both before and after the purchase to insure the new homeowners’ success. “It’s extremely low risk and beneficial to the city,” Huffman said.
The city’s interim ownership of the townhomes, Bode pointed out, is an unusual situation. “We don’t want to be in the rental housing business in the long term,” she said. The staff is working on backup and contingency plans if the units turn out to be less salable than projected. “But it’s just too good an opportunity to pass up to provide home ownership for those who might otherwise never have the chance and to continue to make this neighborhood strong.”
Mayor Johnathan Judd agreed: “It’s a pretty innovative deal.”
– Nancy Edmonds Hanson