Housing Authority on a mission to keep up with growth in Devils Lake

Chuck Wickenhofer
The Ramsey County Housing Authority owns four complexes in the city: Sweetwater Homes, Farrington Homes, Walnut West Homes, and Skyview.

Paula Schuh, director of the Ramsey County Housing Authority, has been on the job since 2009. In that time, she has seen the need for affordable housing in the community rise.

Working with the city, the county, and private owners, Schuh hopes to provide housing in accordance with growth in Devils Lake.

“In recent years, we’ve needed more housing. We have quite a few on our waiting list right now, and we just can’t find apartments for them,” Schuh said. “It’s my opinion that as Devils Lake is trying to grow, to get employees to come and work, we’re going to need places for them to live. The first step is making sure we have housing.”

Devils Lake first acquired public housing in 1970 through funding from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) agency, which became a cabinet-level position in 1965.

“(We’re successful) if we’re spending all of the money that we’re receiving from HUD,” Schuh said.

Though their funding is federal, Schuh reports that private interests are also crucial to her organization’s success.

We work pretty closely with a lot of the (landlords). Our goal is to have everyone full,” Schuh said. “I don’t think you should overbuild in a town either. That’s always the balance, to make sure you know the vacancy rate in town.”

The housing authority provides several options for affordable homes in the area, though the waiting list issue suggests that more is needed. According to Schuh, the organization is tasked to fulfill several missions at once.

“Our lists most of the time are (those who) already have apartments and are just having trouble paying for them,” Schuh said. “There are a lot people that are considered homeless in Devils Lake, but what they’re doing is living with family members. We’re trying to help them find places too.”

Schuh’s reports that the organization has more than one program in place to facilitate those in need.

“Ramsey County actually has two programs,” Schuh said. “We have public housing; that’s where we own the apartments. We also have a Section 8 program, and that is where we help tenants that are living in apartments (owned) by private landlords to make those apartments income-based.

“You are only supposed to spend 30 percent of your gross income on housing, so we look at what your income limits are so that we make sure you only pay your 30 percent,” Schuh added. “Then we get subsidies for the rest.”

Another option for those without housing in the area is the Lake Region Community Shelter, though the tentative plan for that facility is for homeless people in the region to stay there on a temporary basis.

Still, Schuh sees the new shelter as a benefit for the city.

“I think (the shelter) is a wonderful idea,” Schuh said.

With the various options that the Lake Region Housing Authority offers for low to middle income families, and the shelter to provide emergency relief, the city seems to be addressing its need for affordable housing.

“We may only be the housing authority, but it’s my opinion that we need to make sure that there’s housing for everybody,” Schuh said.

“I am always looking at growing. I’ve worked really hard over the last six years to change how people look at the housing authority,” Schuh added. “We are here to help the community build and grow, so we’re trying to get a better handle on staying on top of everything in town.”