One More Way Fossil Fuels Make Life Better: Bakken Fields Boast Highest Rents in America
February 25, 2014
The good life in a “man camp”.
For “boomers” the short lived economic surge means a few years in a trailer, away from home, family, and community connections. For law enforcement, new and overwhelming levels of crime and social disruption.
A sensible program encouraging energy efficiency and sustainable development across America would mean construction and manufacturing jobs in local communities, maintaining and building the bedrock of society, schools, roads, infrastructure, and more importantly – human connections. Moreover, the vital work of upgrading, and continuing to maintain, our existing buildings means jobs for anyone that can pound a nail, dig a hole, or bend metal.
That is not what Big Oil has in mind for your future.
In a country with an unofficial underemployment rate of 20%, the tiny railroad whistle-stop of Williston, North Dakota near the Montana border (population 17,000 and spiking) is currently at capacity: There’s not a motel room to be had in the city, housing prices are double what they were a year ago ($300,000 for a two-bedroom home), and the daily onslaught of new arrivals is reduced to living in their cars, RVs, sporadic tent cities or the rapidly proliferating “man camps” – clusters of trailers in an open field that pack in oil patch workers dormitory style, sometimes six to a room.
Access to running water and simple sanitation is so rare that public businesses have had to lock their bathrooms to discourage makeshift sponge baths or the dumping of wastewater. Meanwhile, throughout the region, fast food professionals can make $15 an hour and waitresses start at $25 an hour, with a bonus if they’ll stay in the job for at least six weeks. (Pizza Hut brought in campers-vans just so its counter help could afford to live there.)
The oil boom in North Dakota has garnered headlines for a range of reasons, many of them unsavory: the possible increase of violence, drug addiction and STDs, the wastefulness ofgas flaring, and the increase in oil and waste water spills. Now, it can be tied to another effect: really high rent.
According to a recent survey from Apartment Guide, the region around the town of Williston, North Dakota has the highest average rent in the U.S., beating out other traditionally expensive areas such as the Washington D.C. and New York City metropolitan regions. A renter in Williston can expect to pay an average of $2,394 a month for a 700-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment — space that would cost $1,504 in New York and $1,411 in the Los Angeles area.
Williston is in the heart of the oil patch — one of the most active oil-producing cities in the second largest oil-producing state in the country. In 2012, the number of oil rigs in the town increased from increased to about 200, a jump from the 70 or so that the town held in 2010. With that growth in oil rigs came a spike in population — the number of people in Williston has more than doubled from 14,700 people in 2010, to up to 33,000 people in 2012. But the housing market in the town hasn’t been able to keep up with the influx of people looking to make their fortunes in the oil field, which explains the inflated rent prices. Pam Winter, Apartment Guide’s Regional Sales Executive for North Dakota, said housing projects are rushing to keep up with demand.
“A lot of the management companies have long-term projects projected, as long as the demand and infrastructure are there,” she said. “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.”
But while these companies rush to build new housing, many in Williston and surrounding North Dakota towns have struggled to find homes, often living in barracks-style “man camps” (the ratio of men to women in Williston, in particular, is 12 to 1, driven by the surge of jobs in the male-dominated oil industry). Prostitution and strip clubs have begun popping up around the camps, but the Department of Justice is also studying whether more serious effects of the camps have been taking place, including “domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking.”
Still others in North Dakota have been forced into homelessness as a result of the housing shortage and high rents. They live in shelters, which are often filling up to beyond capacity in North Dakota, or in their tents or cars — a census in 2013 found that nearly 1,000 people were living in vehicles or in other makeshift refuges in the state. Since 2010, homelessness has tripled in North Dakota — in Williston, the problem is so bad that the Salvation Army has begun paying for one-way bus tickets for homeless men, just so they can get out of the city and back home.