Atlantic Cities
Postcard

A North Dakota Town Where the Rent Is Really, Really High

In the middle of an oil boom, Williston, North Dakota, can't build housing fast enough. In fact, it's growing so fast that last year's Census Bureau estimates that its population doubled from 14,700 in 2010 to 26,700 today.

North Dakota now produces more oil than any state besides Texas. Its small towns along the Williston basin and Bakken formation serving as the face of the growth that has come with it. Williston in particular has become defined by the recent boom; its thousands of newcomers have caused astronomical jumps in rent.

ApartmentGuide.com recently tracked the average cheapest rent in every U.S. town as of last December 31 and found that Williston and the surrounding area have a higher entry level price point than even New York and San Francisco. A quick browse through Craigslist this morning shows one-bedrooms going for $2,700.

Unlike the cities we tend to associate with high rents, Williston's housing prices are hardly driven by luxury dwellings with excessive amenities. Employer-provided dwellings, often referred to as "man camps," give workers a barracks-style arrangement that provide a place to sleep, eat and hang out during work weeks that can be over 80 hours. Those not working in the oil fields are rarely as lucky, pressed instead to find shelter in hotels, new subdivisions or RV parks that quickly fill up.

At worst, some resort to sleeping in cars or tents until something affordable becomes available. While a job in the oil field can pay into the six-figure range, new jobs fueled by the influx of oil workers hardly pay as much, making it even more difficult to afford a decent place to live.

Unlike bigger cities with more balanced economies, the sudden, disproportionately male-driven growth has also led to an overworked police force and all sorts of new quality of life issues related to everything from infrastructure to alcohol. And for a town not used to so many new people, Williston now has the odd paradox of one percent unemployment and a rapidly growing homeless population. According to HUD, the town has "a critical need for available shelter beds." Statewide, homelessness rose 200 percent last year.


Signs are shown pointing to a Recreational Vehicle park outside of Williston, North Dakota February 9, 2014. (REUTERS/Annie Flanagan


A warning sign for a natural gas pipeline is seen as natural gas flares at an oil pump site outside of Williston, North Dakota March 11, 2013. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)


Available land signs are shown in Williston, North Dakota on February 10, 2014. (REUTERS/Annie Flanagan)


A pipeline network is seen in a field outside of Williston, North Dakota March 11, 2013. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)


Available housing signs are shown in Williston, North Dakota February 9, 2014. (REUTERS/Annie Flanagan) 


Williston Mayor Ward Koeser stands near an oil well in Williston, N.D. Koeser, 64, the longtime leader of the western North Dakota oil patch hub of Williston is coming to the end of a two-decade run at the city's helm. Koeser isn't seeking re-election this June, after serving as mayor since 1994. (AP Photo/James MacPherson, File)


A worker hangs from an oil derrick outside of Williston, N.D. July 26, 2011 (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)


In this Oct. 27, 2011, photo Alton and Mary Lou Sundby take a break during a move into a new apartment in Williston, N.D.  The Sundby's were notified that their rent would nearly triple to $2,000 a month.  Thanks to new drilling techniques that make it possible to tap once-unreachable caches of crude, the region that used to have plenty of elbow room is now swarming with armies of workers. But the same booming developments that have 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. (AP Photo/James MacPherson)


An advertisement for a Rebel Roughneck talent show is seen inside a restaurant in Williston, North Dakota March 11, 2013. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)


Austin Mitchell, left, and Ryan Lehto, work on an oil derrick outside of Williston, N.D. July 26, 2011. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull, File)


Residential developments being constructed in Williston, North Dakota, October 19, 2012. (REUTERS/Jim Urquhart)


A man walks back to his temporary housing unit outside of Williston, N.D. on July 26, 2011. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)


Austin Mitchell, right, takes a break with Ben Shaw, left, and Ryan Letho, center, while working an oil derrick outside of Williston, N.D. on Tuesday, July 26, 2011. (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)


A job posting is seen on a sign outside a Wal-Mart store in Williston, North Dakota March 13, 2013. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)


Empty spots for razors are seen inside a Wal-Mart store in Williston, North Dakota March 13, 2013. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)


Mobile homes and other vehicles are seen parked in a snow covered field outside of Williston, North Dakota March 12, 2013. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton) 

An Available Recreational Vehicle housing sign is seen in Williston, North Dakota February 10, 2014. (REUTERS/Annie Flanagan)


Horses graze in a field near an oil pump site outside of Williston, North Dakota March 11, 2013. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

Keywords: Williston, North Dakota

Mark Byrnes is an associate editor at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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