A home of their own: LSSND's affordable housing program operates on 'Housing First' philosophy

The young mother had just signed a lease for her new apartment managed by Lutheran Social Services, and LSSND staff were conducting a pre-move-in inspection.

The young woman’s son – just 2 or 3 years old – was sitting on the floor. “He hardly knows how to play on a floor,” the woman observed. “This is the first time he’s lived anywhere but in a car.”


Our Housing First approach maintains that it is hard to improve other areas of a person's life until they have safe, stable housing.

The mother was so overcome with gratitude for her new home that she burst into tears. So did everyone else. “She cried, I cried, the site manager cried,” recalls Paulette Paulson, director of LSS Housing (LSSH). “We all stood there and just cried.”

Stories like these are common among the people of LSS Housing& Property Management.

Since building its first affordable-housing property 11 years ago – transforming an abandoned mobile home park in Watford City into the Creekside Cottage twinhomes – the Housing staff has heard repeatedly how their Housing First approach works: putting a

permanent roof over their tenants’ heads has helped to transform their lives.

Conversely, even the most basic survival skills become difficult without a permanent address.

A considerable portion of LSS Housing tenants are 55 and older, with 84 of our residents age 80 or older. One of our residents is 100 years old and still living independently!

“All other things take second place when you don’t have a safe, stable, affordable place to live,” says LSSND CEO Jessica Thomasson, who launched the agency’s Housing division in 2008. “We’re not a homeless service provider. We’re not a domestic violence shelter. We’re not a veterans’ services provider. And yet we provide housing to every one of those populations at one of our properties. We just serve people and whatever needs they have.”

LSSND got into the housing business for the most pragmatic of reasons. Rural North Dakota desperately needed affordable housing, and it wasn’t a profitable-enough enterprise for traditional development groups to want to tackle. Recognizing the role that stable housing plays in a person’s overall well-being, LSSND made a decision to step into the void and add affordable housing to its suite of services.

Today, LSS Housing & Property Management operates 41 properties across North Dakota that provide 1,164 homes to individuals and families in 26 communities. The division offers a mix of properties for every need and income level.


Lately, its main focus has been taking over aging subsidized housing projects that are about to lose their federal funding. Once federal support is lost, the tenants – many of whom are older adults, single parents with small children or people with disabilities – often find their monthly rents will jump significantly. LSSND steps in as new managers (and sometimes owners, with partners like CommunityWorks ND) to prevent that.

“All other things take second place when you don’t have a safe, stable, affordable place to live." – LSSND CEO Jessica Thomasson.

It also is now working to bring its affordable housing work to larger communities, and to provide property management services in concert with tribal leadership on Native American reservations.

The LSSND philosophy not only extends to what properties it manages, but how those

properties are managed. Paulson hires property managers who are willing to work with tenants if they struggle to pay rent or are caught in dysfunctional living situations.

Housing staff will often offer case-management support to residents who need extra help, sometimes connecting them to mental health resources or working out payment plans to allow people to catch up on their rent. “We try to do everything we can to avoid evicting people,” Thomasson says, “knowing we have a double bottom line to manage too. Both social and financial goals matter for our work to be successful.”

“We’re going to be here when times are good, and we will be here when times are bad. We’re part of this community, and we’re part of this state,” Thomasson says. “We’re here for the long haul.”

Learn more about Lutheran Social Services Housing at www.lssh.org

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