The oil boom in the Dakotas and Montana has raised concerns about everything from environmental degradation to human trafficking. Now the region has another dubious distinction: The rent is even higher in tiny, housing-deprived Williston, North Dakota than it is in notoriously expensive New York City.
“A 700-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-bath apartment in Williston easily can cost more than $2,000 per month,” revealed the website Apartmentguide.com on February 17. “Looking for a little more space? A three-bedroom, three-bath apartment could cost as much as $4,500 per month.”
Comparable space in the Big Apple would be, on average, $1,504 and Los Angeles would be $1,411, the Associated Press noted. All this to live in a place that the news site Gawker has likened to a mining colony on Mars.
In New York City, at least, the high rents are a constant concern and even gave rise to a political party, The Rent Is Too Damn High, whose founder, Jimmy McMillan, ran for governor four years ago.
Although more housing is in the works in pricey Williston, developers simply cannot build fast enough to accommodate a population that has more than doubled since 2010. Just four years ago this tiny, formerly agricultural town near the Montana border just south of Saskatchewan, Canada, held 14,716 people in 6,190 households, according to U.S. Census. Today it’s bursting with 30,000 to 40,000.
“A lot of the management companies have long-term projects projected, as long as the demand and infrastructure are there,” said Pam Winter, Apartment Guide’s Regional Sales Executive for North Dakota, on the site’s blog. “Projects that will be 300 units by the end of this year are looking to be 800 if it continues to boom. Currently I have not seen many concessions, and one of the developers raised his rent in January.”
Field workers’ six-figure salaries enable them to afford inflated rent, Apartment Guide pointed out. This leads to the serious side of the housing issue. Those who do not yet have homes or apartments end up living in so-called man camps, fueling the potential for human trafficking and other ills, as ICTMN has reported.
With or without adequate housing, concerns abound about whether the temporary nature of the jobs will be offset by the availability of permanent abodes. Pipeline and other oil-drilling projects are raising concerns throughout the region. Even Apartmentguide.com notes that “the ratio of men to women in Williston is about 12 to 1.”
“I think they are optimistic the oil boom will be around for the next 20 years because of the different levels of oil they now have access to through fracking,” said Winter in the website’s blog post. “I just don’t know with the weather that many people who are working in the oil fields will stay for more than a couple of years.”