N. Dakota oil boom ignites rise in rents
The same booming development that made North Dakota virtually immune to the Great Recession has forced many longtime residents to abandon their homes, including seniors who carved towns like Williston out of the unforgiving prairie long before oil money arrived.
The Associated Press
WILLISTON, N.D. — After living all of her 82 years in the same community, Lois Sinness left her hometown this month, crying and towing a U-Haul packed with her every possession.
She didn't want to go, but the rent on her $700-a-month apartment was going up almost threefold because of strong demand for housing from North Dakota's oil bonanza.
Other seniors in her complex and across the western part of the state are in the same predicament.
"Our rents were raised, and we did not have a choice," Sinness said. "We're all on fixed incomes, living mostly on Social Security, so it's been a terrible shock."
It's an irony of economic success: The same booming development that made North Dakota virtually immune to the Great Recession has forced many longtime residents to abandon their homes, including seniors who carved towns like Williston out of the unforgiving prairie long before oil money arrived.
Thanks to new drilling techniques that make it possible to tap once-unreachable caches of crude, a region that used to have plenty of elbow room is swarming with armies of workers. Nodding pumps dot the wide, mostly barren landscape.
But because of limited housing, the area is ill-prepared to handle the influx of people. The result is that some rents have risen to the level found in some of the largest U.S. cities, with modest two-bedroom apartments commonly going for as much as $2,000 a month.
The skyrocketing cost of living is all the talk at the senior center downtown.
"Grandma can't go to work in the oil fields and make a 150 grand a year," said A.J. Mock, director of the Williston Council for the Aging.
Drilling operations have transformed the area, which now resembles an industrial park. Previously uncongested highways and city streets are clogged with 18-wheelers.
Some workers live in tents, cars and campers. Hotels are booked. Just a handful of homes were listed for sale in October in Williston, including a humble mobile home priced at $149,500. Two mobile-home parks that were abandoned after the last oil bust are now full.
In most of the surrounding towns, temporary housing camps have sprung up. Because many of them are little more than dormitories made out of shipping containers, some communities have banned them for sanitary and safety reasons.
Flooding that damaged thousands of homes in nearby Minot last summer has exacerbated the housing shortage.
Developers have been slow to build more apartments, largely because they got stung by the region's last oil boom that went bust in the 1980s.
About 1,000 new housing units are planned for this year, but no one expects them to make a real dent in demand.
Mayor Ward Koeser blamed the issue on supply and demand, and in some cases, greed and gouging.
North Dakota law forbids capping rental rates.
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