Deadline for Cheap North Dakota Flood Rebuilding Loans Looms

Jessica Henderson’s Minot home had just been painstakingly gutted and remodeled, from the basement on up, when the flooding Souris River put its main floor under four feet of water last summer.

When it came time to rebuild again, Henderson was one of hundreds of Minot residents who tapped a low-interest loan fund, set up by the Legislature through the state-owned Bank of North Dakota, to help finance repairs — and give flood victims an incentive to stay in town.

But the program is coming to an end. The deadline for loan applications is Sept. 30, with more than $10 million still available.

The fund offers borrowers a $30,000 loan at 1 percent interest, with no payments needed for two years and up to 20 years to pay it back. There are no income limits, and no collateral is required. Homeowners only need to promise to spend most of the money rebuilding their dwellings.

“It helps us out a lot, not having to pay a large payment. They give us time to make the payments. We can pay it off early if we want to,” Henderson said. “With the low interest rate, it’s been great for us.”

Eric Hardmeyer, president of the Bank of North Dakota, said the bank has approved more than 1,400 applications for $39.6 million in loans. The Legislature authorized up to $50 million.

The pace of applications has slowed in recent months, Hardmeyer said. He believes most people who were intent on rebuilding have already put in their requests, particularly in Minot, where the scope of a planned new flood-protection project has become clearer, giving residents a better idea of whether reconstruction would be worth the investment.

“People were able to make decisions,” Hardmeyer said. “I think it’s just a combination of getting after it and understanding where they were in relationship to the flood-protection measures.”

Almost all of the loan requests came from Minot, where more than 4,000 homes were damaged by Souris River flooding last summer. Some came from property owners in Bismarck and Mandan whose homes were damaged by Missouri River flooding, Hardmeyer said.

In interviews last week, both lenders and borrowers praised the “rebuilders’ loan program,” saying its simplicity helped provide an important source of financing for Minot’s flood recovery.

The initiative helped to supplement aid provided by the federal Emergency Management Agency and the Small Business Administration, with bureaucratic obstacles kept to a minimum, they said.

“I honestly believe that without it, there would have been lots of folks that would never have been able to rebuild,” said John MacMartin, president of the Minot Area Chamber of Commerce. “It made a difference in people’s lives.”

MacMartin, who lives in Minot’s Eastwood Park neighborhood, was himself a borrower. He and his wife had already planned on remodeling their kitchen, and flood damage forced them to “basically rebuild our house. We now have a house that, essentially, has all brand-new guts,” he said.

“The last time I had 1 percent money was when I had a student loan in college in 1973,” MacMartin said. “One percent money to me was huge. It made all the difference in the world.”

Ron Monson, who lives on Minot’s east side, had about 18 inches of water on the main floor of his home. He has moved back in, but work is continuing and he hopes to finish by Thanksgiving, he said.

Monson’s loan went to buy “carpet, Sheetrock, electrical, everything in the house,” he said. The loan program, he said, “was timely, well thought out and very well implemented.”

The loan applications were handled by local banks. Monson got his at United Community Bank in Minot. Gate City Bank handled about 300 loans, said Peggy Johnson, a bank vice president who is Gate City’s Minot office manager.

Once a local bank made the loan, the Bank of North Dakota bought them and took over servicing, Hardmeyer said.

Henderson said she was particularly grateful for the simplicity of the loan process. When she and her husband, Stephen, an electrician, were evacuated from their home, Jessica Henderson was eight months pregnant with the couple’s daughter. They also have a 4-year-old son.

“We didn’t need more stress in our lives,” she said.