Community Matters

Written by: Brady Drake

By Maria Effertz,

Director of Community Services, North Dakota Department of Commerce

What makes a vibrant community? In North Dakota, we have 357 incorporated cities. Nearly 60% of North Dakotans call our 10 largest communities’ home, while approximately 40% live in communities under 10,000 people, many much smaller. 86% of our cities have populations under 1,000 people.

This is not to say small communities lack vibrancy. On the contrary, part of the beauty of our great state is the unique character of each town, the deep roots we have in our varied landscapes, from rural to urban, agricultural to metropolitan (yes, we have metro areas). Our task within the Division of Community Services is to help all our communities, regardless of size or population, access programs and resources to become vibrant, sustainable places to live, work and play. Specifically, we assist local governments and state agencies in their efforts within community development, energy efficiency, housing, and self-sufficiency.

The following is a brief overview of programs we administer in partnership with local governments and agencies to support the growth and enrichment of North Dakota communities, of all sizes.

Community Development Block Grant

The Community Development Block Grant (CDBG), provided through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, provides financial assistance to local governments in the form of grants to fund projects like rehabilitating affordable housing, improving roads and sidewalks, creating job opportunities, or providing services to people in need. The primary beneficiaries of these projects must be low to moderate-income individuals.

Community Services Block Grant

The Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) assists communities in implementing anti-poverty programs. Funded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CSBG programs and services are designed to promote self-sufficiency, family stability, and community revitalization. Services to eligible low-income individuals and families include emergency assistance, housing counseling, workforce training, and referrals. The program has impacted 35,246 persons in North Dakota, including 13,000 children and 5,600 persons with disabilities.

Weatherization Assistance Program

The Federal Weatherization Assistance Program is designed to help income-qualified households improve the energy efficiency of their homes with free or low-cost energy efficiency upgrades and improvements. These may include insulation installation, weather-stripping, sealing air leaks, upgrading heating and cooling systems, and replacing inefficient appliances. The program aims to make homes more energy-efficient, which in turn helps reduce energy bills and provides a healthier and more comfortable living environment for low-income families. Since 2020, more than 1,200 homes have been weatherized, including 623 homes of families with children.

State Energy Program

The North Dakota State Energy Program is a state-level initiative aimed at promoting energy efficiency, renewable energy, and energy conservation within North Dakota. The state office collaborates with stakeholders, local governments, and businesses to advance energy efficiency efforts across the state. The program offers funding, technical assistance, and educational resources to help individuals, communities and businesses adopt energy-saving practices and technologies. More than $1.34 million in project funding was granted for 42 projects in 2020-2022.

Manufactured Home Installation Program

Since 2003, the Division of Community Services has overseen the manufactured home installation program, where all new manufactured homes installed for residential purposes are inspected to ensure safe and proper construction and installation. From July 2020 through June 2022, 542 manufactured homes were installed.

Coming Soon: Energy Efficiency Grants

The Federal Inflation Reduction Act and Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provide additional funds for home efficiency and appliance rebates for individuals. This federally funded program is expected to be available in late 2023 and some of the guidelines will be subject to federal regulations.

Coming Soon: Rural Food Access

To succeed, communities need to have certain amenities, including access to fresh food and grocery items. The 2023 North Dakota Legislature created a pilot grant program to support the expansion and growth of food opportunities in areas of need. Existing or new food access ideas will be entertained to meet the basic needs of fresh food in rural areas. Priority will be given to pilot programs that can be replicated. This initiative will be rolled out in the fall of 2023.

Coming Soon: Rural Workforce Housing/Slum and Blight Removal Grants

Additionally, the 2023 North Dakota Legislature created a pilot workforce housing/slum and blight removal grant program for communities with populations under 10,000. This grant will target housing opportunities in communities where workforce housing has been proven needed to support growth. In-fill and multi-use buildings will be given priority for this program. This initiative will be rolled out in the fall of 2023. Community development and growth don’t occur overnight. It takes hard work and collaboration with all hands on deck working together to build vibrant and thriving communities and inspire future generations of North Dakotans. While the state offers many programs, the leaders of the community must first have the willingness to tackle its challenges. We are excited to partner with local champions to see projects to completion and then look at what more can be done. To learn more about the resources available from Community Services and connect with us to start the conversation, visit commerce.

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Brady is the Editorial Director at Spotlight Media in Fargo, ND.