November 2, 2011

County purchases mobile homes to ease housing issues for new employees

By Kate Ruggles
Farmer Staff Writer

Getting the budget approved for the county to hire new employees was just the first hurdle for the McKenzie County Commissioners. Now that the money has been put aside, new employees have to be found and hired. But where are they going to live?
The lack of housing in Watford City and throughout McKenzie County is a growing problem. McKenzie County has plenty of jobs, but not enough workers. Even if the workers are found and brought in, there isn’t enough available and affordable housing.
Realizing that they needed to help solve this problem, the McKenzie County Commissioners set out to do so.
“We’ve been working on different angles for two years,” states Gene Veeder, McKenzie County Job Development Authority executive director.
Finally, after exploring every avenue, the county commissioners decided that purchasing housing was the best solution.
Veeder states that he approached Greg Dougherty, owner of a mobile home park development west of Mitchell’s Oilfield Service. Dougherty then put Veeder in touch with a few of the vendors he was working with.
“We found one who was willing to cut us a deal,” Veeder states. “After that, it was up to the county commissioners to act .”
The commissioners, realizing that they had to move quickly, approved the purchase of six, four-bedroom, mobile home units within 24 hours of receiving the proposal.
“I appreciate their willingness to take action,” Veeder states. “In today’s market you have to act immediately.”
Dale Patten, McKenzie County commissioner, says that the initial reasoning behind this purchase was for the recruitment of law enforcement officers.
“The deputies have to have a place to live,” Patten states, “and we couldn’t recruit any until we found housing.”
However, according to Veeder, once the homes were secured, more than the Sheriff’s Department showed an interest in reserving them.
“Almost immediately after the deal went through, the homes were spoken for,” states Veeder.
Four of the homes are reserved for the newly-hired deputies. In addition, the North Dakota Highway Patrol expressed a desire to station an officer in McKenzie County and reserved a unit. And Social Services procured a home in hopes of hiring another social worker.
“This move became necessary because there was almost no housing available, and what was available was too expensive for a newly-hired employee making starting salary wages,” Patten states.
While the county commissioners understand this was a necessary move to fill open county positions, they view this as a short-term solution for new hires.
Patten states that the county hopes this will bring the new hires in so they can begin working and get settled.  In time, as they settle and become familiar with the town, more affordable housing should become available for them to purchase or rent.
In the meantime, the county employees that occupy these homes will be paying rent.
Beyond that, the McKenzie County Commissioners aren’t settled on future plans for these homes. Both Veeder and Patten state that they will either choose to sell the mobile homes, or retain them for other new hires, depending on what circumstances may warrant.
The mobile home units were purchased in September, with a four to six-week delivery time. Right now, the McKenzie County Commissioners are waiting on the cement for the foundation. Soon after that, the homes should be ready for occupancy.