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Fargo homeowner Sandy Holbrook watched in 2011 as crews worked on the a new development of lofts in the Roosevelt neighborhood near North Dakota State University. Heidi Shaffer / The Forum

City may consider permits for rentals in neighborhood near NDSU

FARGO — A rental registry aimed at deadbeat landlords and incentives helping lower-income homeowners with maintenance were among ideas city officials discussed Wednesday, April 19, to preserve the beleaguered Roosevelt neighborhood.

Planning commissioners and city staff recognized it's not just an uphill battle but a steep hill at that.

With the growth of nearby North Dakota State University, landlords and developers are often willing to outbid would-be homeowners, according to the officials.

Not all landlords neglect their properties but enough do, leaving dilapidated homes that are too expensive for would-be homeowners to fix. Developers often swoop in with plans to demolish and replace the single-family homes with apartments.

Planning commissioner Mike Magelky suggested it might already be too late. "I don't know how you save it," he said.

But City Planner Jim Gilmour said the adjacent Horace Mann neighborhood was full of rundown rental properties a decade ago, a trend that appears to have begun reversing as he sees more homeownership now.

The Planning Commission's discussion occurred a couple of weeks after developers began demolishing nearly an entire block of single-family homes along University Drive North to make way for apartments aimed at NDSU students.

Neighborhood residents again complained about the rezoning that allowed the project to move forward but city leaders, reasoning it would help the university expand, gave it the green light.

The Planning Department has begun another study to identify the problems and offer solutions.

After interviewing Roosevelt residents and others interested in saving the neighborhood, Assistant Planner Tyrone Grandstrand told commissioners it's important to stop the "cycle of disinvestment," which is what happens when a homeowner decides not to maintain his property because nobody else is and he won't get a return on his investment.

The city's problem is it has no easy way of forcing deadbeat landlords to take care of their properties.

Gilmour said the city could be tougher in its enforcement of building standards but the only way to force the issue is to take the landlord to court, which is a long laborious process. A rental registry could help because revoking a rental license is much easier, he said, but it makes no sense to apply a registry to all 30,000 rental properties in the city, the majority are well maintained.

The city planner said he has discussed ways to just require a rental registry in at-risk neighborhoods.

Planning commissioner Mary Scherling wondered if there were programs available to help lower-income homeowners afford maintenance with grants or low-interest loans.

Gilmour said the city does have federal grants it can offer for low-income homeowners and low-interest loans for those of moderate means as well as property-tax incentives.

While the Roosevelt neighborhood was the focus of Wednesday's discussion, Grandstrand said when his study is done in a month he expects to expand it to other neighborhoods around downtown, such as the Hawthorne neighborhood, that are also at risk.