Lured by the promise of jobs created by the oil and gas boom, unemployed people are flocking to North Dakota en masse. This is heralded by many in the mainstream media as great news – labor mobility at its best – however, there is a darker side: rents are surging and finding a place to live at any price is difficult. As Reuters reports, amid all the boomtime plenty, however, is a housing affordability crisis. North Dakota saw a 200% jump in homelessness last year, the biggest increase of any state – “people are coming because it’s widely publicized that we have jobs, but it’s not widely publicized that we don’t have housing.“
“Homelessness is a quickly growing problem in North Dakota, which hasn’t received the attention it deserves,” said Heitkamp in a statement.
Amid all the boomtime plenty, however, is a housing affordability crisis. North Dakota saw a 200 percent jump in homelessness last year, the biggest increase of any state. There are now 2,069 homeless people in the state of 699,628, according to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That translates into 28.6 homeless people per 10,000. The national average is 19.
Williston is perhaps the most extreme example of a phenomenon that researchers say has followed frackers across the country as the shale boom draws large numbers of people to sparsely populated and remote areas of the country. As frackers move in, demands are placed on limited housing stock and rents climb, according to research from Cornell University.
Williston – not so long ago a place where a traffic jam was two people at a stop sign – saw its population more than double, to an estimated 33,547 last year from 14,716 in 2010, according to estimates from North Dakota State University. The number of homeless in the area is 986, according to official town estimates.
Rents have skyrocketed. One-bedroom apartments, which cost $500 per month a few years ago, command as much as $2,000 per month. It’s difficult to get a real estate agent on the phone, and waiting lists for apartment houses and RV spaces overflowing. People are renting out rooms in their homes for as much as $1,000. Starter houses cost $300,000 or more to buy.
There are no homeless shelters in Williston, and the city says it does not have the resources to cope with its new homeless population.
“People are coming because it’s widely publicized that we have jobs, but it’s not widely publicized that we don’t have housing,”
“The common scenario is that these people spent their last dollar to take a bus to come here to make a better life for their family back home,” said Captain Joshua Stansberry of the Williston Salvation Army. “But with the high cost of living, they are forced to live a transient lifestyle.”
“The jobs are here,” he said. “But you can be damn sure of one thing: None of us can find housing.”
It’s not just workers who are affected. Student homelessness in North Dakota increased 212 percent last year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.
“As early as three to four years ago, the homeless were a number that we didn’t even calculate, nor did we monitor it,” said Steve Holen, superintendent of the McKenzie County School District, which includes Watford City. “We didn’t feel the need to as we had virtually no situations in which this was occurring.”
The Salvation Army in Williston is now buying one-way bus tickets for people to go back home.