A piece of West Fargo history began to move Tuesday, Nov. 26, to make way for new affordable housing for seniors and low-income residents.

Demolition began Tuesday on West Fargo's low-rise complex in the 800 block of Sheyenne Street. The 60 units will be razed and replaced with 85 units for seniors age 62 and older. The complex will be known as Monterey and Brighton Place.

"We're not building 85 units, we're building 85 homes," said North Dakota Housing Finance Agency Interim Executive Director Dave Flohr.

Demolition of the one-story, condo-style apartments is expected to take a few weeks, Cass County Housing Authority Deputy Director Derek Johnson said. Construction will then begin turning the area into a four-story, L-shaped apartment facility with a community room and other amenities, to be built along the west side of the property down to Eighth Avenue.

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Beyond Shelter, an affordable housing developer, and Cass County Housing Authority staff helped former residents find permanent housing options. Residents received help with the relocation process, including moving assistance and security deposits.

Johnson said the former residents of the soon-to-be demolished units will be allowed priority if they choose to reapply for housing at the new developments.

"Any of those residents who qualify, they will have the ability to move to the front of the wait list," Johnson said. "They'll still have to meet age and income qualifications."

After demolition is completed on the first phase, construction will begin in the spring. The exterior work is slated to wrap up by winter 2020, with a project completion date of July 2021. Johnson said weather, of course, will be a variable that could effect the timeline.

The current high-rise and low-rise complex opened in 1968 to serve the elderly but later added other low-income residents. It was the first public housing project to be constructed in the state of North Dakota, Flohr said.

With the start of demolition, officials announced that a second phase of the project, which will replace the family units on the 900 block of Sheyenne Street, is moving forward.

On Nov. 14, Johnson said, the Cass County Housing Authority received approval from the North Dakota Housing Finance Agency allowing that the second phase of additional family housing could begin. The authority will apply for financial aid through state and federal agencies in hopes that the process of relocating current residents could begin in spring and the second phase of construction could begin in fall.

The second phase will turn 24 public housing units to 38 units of one-, two- and three-bedroom units. Of those, eight units will be reserved for families who are currently homeless, eight will be for seniors and nine will be fully handicapped accessible.

"So we will increase the number of units significantly," Johnson said. "Currently we have 84 (units) between the two sites, and when it is all said and done we'll have 123 units."

Officials found it would be more cost-effective to demolish the aging low-rise properties and build new.

"The useful life of the buildings has ended," West Fargo Planning Director Tim Solberg said. "To improve them was extremely costly. They're not really sufficient for today's renter."

Solberg said the well-known high rise facility along Sheyenne Street will remain standing.

Affordable housing has been a rising need across the state. A 2016 North Dakota Statewide Housing Needs Assessment showed that in 2014, 16.1% of all West Fargo homeowners were spending 30% or more of their household income toward housing costs. About 1,397 renters were also paying 30% or more of their household incomes to housing costs.

The city of West Fargo approved a tax exemption for the nearly $20 million project in September 2018. Officials hoped demolition would begin last spring, but the last federal government shutdown delayed the process as it made its way through national HUD processes.

The project will be built using tax credits, and the Housing Authority will own it. Although the city of West Fargo approved a property tax exemption for the project, the Housing Authority will continue to pay the city and county about $30,000 per year in taxes.