FARGO — Ken Enockson sees the ever-growing number of rental homes as the No. 1 problem in his north Fargo Roosevelt neighborhood.
But there are many positives, too, in the neighborhood that runs west of Broadway from Seventh Avenue North to 15th Avenue North.
Enockson cites walk-ability, historic homes, proximity to downtown and the North Dakota State University campus, and the "great schools," including Roosevelt Elementary, among the positive attributes.
Another Roosevelt neighborhood association leader, Jim Laschkewitsch, adds that the "positives far outweigh the negatives, in my opinion."
He said the tree-lined streets, the architectural wonders in the homes and the lower prices of land with no special assessments in many instances are great qualities.
However, the two neighborhood leaders said there is nagging pressure to try to save and keep up single-family homes there. The City of Fargo lists that of the 3,180 housing units in the Roosevelt neighborhood in 2010, 2,319 of them, or 77 percent, were rental properties.
City Commissioner John Strand has called Roosevelt one of the city's "most at-risk" neighborhoods. It has been in the news the past year as it fought to keep out a six-story, 85-unit apartment complex project by Roers Development that would be attached to the rebuilt Catholic Church's Newman Center chapel and student gathering center southeast of NDSU.
The project would eliminate some of blighted rental homes, but Enockson points out that neighbors simply don't like a "monstrous" apartment complex rising up among the historic single-family homes surrounding it.
Enockson says the problems with the increasing number of run-down rental homes intensified about 10 years ago as NDSU continued to grow its enrollment with what he believes was a lack of planning by the university and the city about where to house the additional students.
"We kind of started to become a dormitory and a parking lot for the university," Enockson said.
Laschkewitsch agrees and adds that "the over-eager investment community is attempting to establish profit by purchasing single-family homes and converting them into rentals."
He said the trend has been going on for much longer than 10 years, suggesting it could be as many as 40 or 50 years.
As the number of rentals increased, some homeowners have wanted out, compounding the problem, Enockson said.
Then a secondary trend of degradation occurred, he said, when developers saw the potential of a "cash cow" in developing apartment units. They bought up adjoining homes on a block and then let them fall into ruin so they could tear them down and build the more profitable multifamily units.
The challenges don't stop there. There have been some concerns in the past about large student parties and crime, but Laschkewitsch said it seems to be more under control in the past few years.
He said for years rental homes faced no requirements on the condition of the home, safety of the home or available parking.
The rental homes seem "to be kind off the radar," he said.
But city inspections have been improving, according to Laschkewitsch, with some homes condemned and required to be torn down. Property owners have their rights, though, and he said sometimes the process can drag on for years.
He said that the properties "could be maintained and should be maintained by law." He said the city should intervene "well before they need to be torn down."
Most of the homes in the neighborhood, which Laschkewitsch said date back to pre-World War II when construction was an art, have stood the test of time and have features such as maple floors, mahogany trim, masterful staircases and even stained-glass windows.
"The character of the neighborhood is really tied to the roots of Fargo. There are so many features and attractions that we think would be a shame to lose," he said.
There are some ideas floating around and some that are already under way to save the homes and neighborhood.
The nonprofit Rebuilding Together group is repairing and renovating 10 to 15 homes this summer in the Roosevelt neighborhood free of charge that belong to low-income people.
There's also the Habitat for Humanity nonprofit organization that may help restore some of the other homes in disrepair.
It's also been suggested that a nonprofit land trust organization be set up where the properties would be in a trust for perpetuity with homes then rehabilitated or built and owned by buyers at a lower price.
Yet another way to possibly help is a rental registry, which Enockson said would help determine whom to contact if complaints are made. He said some of the landlords live outside the area or are part of an ownership group with no contact names provided.
Laschkewitsch said the rental-ownership issue isn't confined to the Roosevelt neighborhood. A recent market analysis provided by Carol Schlossman Consulting of Fargo has shown that 53% of housing units in the city are rentals while 47% are owner-occupied. Nationally, the number is much different, with 35% rentals and 65% owner-occupied.
"There is a way to get a good mix of quality and affordable housing options," Laschkewitsch said. He noted that other university cities have done it. He "absolutely" believes the city should also offer incentives for homeowners to improve properties.
"We do all of these programs for large developers (Renaissance Zones, Tax Increment Financing districts). Why not something for small homeowners?" Laschkewitsch asks.