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Perham keeps getting bigger and younger, new housing study shows

The recently-finalized 2021 Perham Housing Study shows the town's population is continuing a years-long trend of growing faster than homes can be built.

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A new 24-unit Grow Perham apartment complex will likely be complete by mid-summer.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

PERHAM—A recently finalized 2021 Perham Housing Study, developed by West Central Initiative in partnership with the Perham Economic Development Authority, shows the town is continuing a longstanding trend of growing faster than homes can be built.

"Growth-wise, we're out-pacing just about everybody," said Nick Murdock, Perham's economic development director. "It's crazy, the amount that we're building — and it's just getting eaten up."

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Perham EDA Director Nick Murdock
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

While rapid growth is a well-known aspect of Perham's demographics, the housing study found a few other unique characteristics of the community:

  • Residents of Perham are younger compared to median age numbers across the region. This is likely because Perham houses a large number of entry-level jobs and positions that are more suited for a single person, such as night shifts.
  • Most population growth is concentrated within Perham city limits rather than in nearby areas outside the limits.
  • Rentals (as opposed to owned homes) are more common than elsewhere in Otter Tail County.

New rentals have been regularly constructed in Perham in recent decades in order to help keep up with the community's housing demand.
Murdock pointed out a particular study indicative of this demand. According to statistics gathered in 2019, about 3,056 people live outside of Perham and commute into town to work. About 1,102 people live in Perham but are employed elsewhere. Only about 726 people both live and work in Perham.

"That tells me that if we had more housing, there's a certain percentage of these people (who commute) that would occupy that housing," Murdock said. "They want to live here because they're working here."

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Amy Baldwin, Otter Tail County's community development director, said Perham's number of jobs in relation to its population is a unique aspect of the town.

The county is currently conducting its own housing study, which also shows the young average age of Perham's population to be unique. County-wide, the most projected population growth is in the older age range, and younger ages are expected to flatline over the next few years.

According to Baldwin and the Otter Tail County housing study, most employees who live in the county also work there, with a commute of fewer than 10 minutes. Perham is the second-most common work destination in the county, again showing the gap between available jobs and housing in the town.

Grow Perham, a local organization that aims to create more housing in the community, has built about 14 apartment complexes, with 232 occupied units, since the group was formed in 2008. The group is currently working on a third one, comprised of 24 units. Located by Marks Home & More on Jake Street, it will likely be complete by mid-summer.

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Many new apartment complexes, like this one, have been built in Perham over the past few years to keep up with its growth.
Elizabeth Vierkant / Perham Focus

According to Grow Perham's David Schornack, the group has space for two more 24-unit complexes near that same location.

"We plan to keep building more," he said, adding that upwards of 400 people are currently living in Grow Perham's buildings.

Apartment complexes and houses keep getting built and keep getting filled, Murdock said. Another housing study a few years ago found that Perham needed 200 new housing units within five years in order to keep up with growth.

“We added about 200 (housing units) in three years, and they’re all full,” he continued. “Whatever gets built in Perham gets occupied, because there’s that much demand."

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The study concluded that two possible solutions for Perham's housing supply shortage are to create new housing on smaller lots, and to increase the housing mix.

The study was conducted to help city leaders make economic decisions best suited for Perham's population, housing and growth.

"We always say (Perham's growth) is the culture in town," Murdock said. "Our motto at the EDA is, ‘Progressive Perham.’ We look for opportunities. It’s just the culture we’ve adopted, and everyone is on board. It keeps going.”

Elizabeth (she/her), 23, graduated with a degree in Journalism and Communications from the University of Wisconsin–Stout in 2020. Elizabeth has always had a passion for telling stories about people and specializes in community features, which she uses for her Perham-centered content.
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