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Study indicates Moorhead in need of more homes

Moorhead has hit a growth spurt that won't slow soon, according to a new housing market survey commissioned by the city. The study says Moorhead could add an average of 170 to 260 housing units each year for the next 10 years, in a mix of single ...

Moorhead has hit a growth spurt that won't slow soon, according to a new housing market survey commissioned by the city.

The study says Moorhead could add an average of 170 to 260 housing units each year for the next 10 years, in a mix of single family homes, townhouses and apartments.

Particularly strong potential for growth lies in some target areas: townhouses for empty nesters, apartments for students and homes for people who can afford to pay $350,000 or more, the study says.

The results show that Moorhead's slow growth over the last three decades hasn't been due to lack of demand, said the Rev. Ernie Mancini, chairman of the Housing Task Force.

"We have absolutely destroyed that myth," he said. "The problem is, we don't have enough supply."

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The study, prepared by Bonz and Co. of Boston as part of the city's revamp of its land-use plan, cost $10,000. The company used growth predictions by several companies, U.S. census numbers, and interviews with housing industry members to make its forecasts.

An analysis of past growth shows that new home construction has proceeded at a rate of 363 units annually for the last two years, compared with an average of 132 units each year for the preceding nine years, the study says.

That shows Moorhead has just entered a growth period. The building permit numbers for the last two years are higher than the study's most generous predictions, because the forecasts show the city's net gain of homes, not just the number of new ones built.

And Moorhead should be able to maintain that growth.

As Fargo grows, Moorhead's community character will become increasingly different from -- and perhaps more appealing than -- its sister city's, the survey says. Also, in Moorhead, available land may be more convenient for reaching areas like the two cities' downtowns, or even the West Acres area, than Fargo locations.

The city has become more "developer-friendly," both in its politics and in its housing codes, and it's been doing an increasingly good job of marketing itself, the report said.

Within that strong market, particular demand should crop up in a few areas.

Townhouses will be one strong area because, as baby boomers age, more will be looking to downsize their homes, the report said.

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Potential also exists for many more apartment units, because 4,500 of Moorhead's 11,000 students live outside of the city. Newer apartment buildings with more amenities, currently rare in the city, could draw some of those students back, the report says.

Few high-end homes are available in Moorhead's market, forcing those who could afford them to live in less expensive houses, the study said.

The city also could use some more housing options, particularly high-end apartment homes, for seniors, though that market is mixed, it said.

Demand in the city already is high, said Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland. One builder attempted to construct homes first and sell them later, but he never managed to finish one before it went off the market, Voxland said.

"None of them have survived sheet rocking," he said.

Moorhead has taken the right steps to help builders, said Fargo-Moorhead Home Builders Association president-elect Dave Anderson.

"Fargo is getting to the point where they're looking for places to live, so Moorhead is looking more attractive -- they've got the lots, they've got the land," he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Joy Anderson at (701) 241-5556

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