Amid protest, Williston mayor appoints panel on affordable housing

Barbara Vondell of Williston, N.D., addresses the Williston City Commission on Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, about doing more to address the high cost of housing. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. – A group of residents who say they’re fed up with the high cost of housing here urged Williston city commissioners Tuesday to do more to find solutions.

Barbara Vondell, a Williston resident leading the effort, said the group collected 863 petition signatures from people who want the city to provide tax incentives to developers to build low- and moderate-income housing.

Vondell formed a Facebook group called People in Williston Have Had Enough after a local trailer court raised lot rent from $350 to $750 a month, affecting many senior citizens on fixed incomes.

After researching the issue and holding a protest this month, the group decided to expand its effort to help find affordable housing for all residents.

“We realized that it wasn’t just the seniors,” Vondell said. “It’s everybody.”

Williston Mayor Ward Koeser thanked the group for researching the issue and said he considered calling and asking to sign their affordable housing petition.

“It is the issue that haunts us,” Koeser said. “It’s just a huge challenge.”

Koeser appointed a new city committee to study affordable housing and asked for three members of Vondell’s group to participate. Vondell said she’s researching a zoning policy a city in Maryland has that may work for Williston.

“We’re going to try to work with you,” Koeser said. “Sometimes when you bring new people in with a new perspective, maybe we’ll find a way.”

Commissioner Brad Bekkedahl said the city has sold city property at reduced rates for senior housing and has provided incentives for other projects that provide lower rents.

“We just need more of those projects to come forward,” Bekkedahl said.

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