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It's not the first oil boom to hit North Dakota, but it's undoubtedly the biggest. North Dakota has quickly become one of the largest oil-producing states in the country. The Bakken has brought thousands of people to North Dakota and billions of dollars in state revenue. But it's also brought its share of headaches for those living in oil country. Home construction can't keep up with the rapid growth in population. Crimes, accidents and arrests are at an all-time high in western North Dakota. Small cities that were once off the grid are making national headlines as they face challenges they've never had to deal with before.
Clip: Oil Growth Creates Housing Shortage
It's the only place where you can make $100,000 a year and still be homeless. Housing is the toughest challenge plaguing oil communities. With homes and apartments maxed out, there's been a huge surge in long-term stays in hotels and the creation of man camps. Some workers have even been desperate enough to live in their vehicles.
Living in a pickup is not something new to Russ Relyea. Relyea is originally from Salt Lake City, UT. He moved to Williston four months ago to work at Gramma Sharon's.
"It was by accident I found out what was going on up here in North Dakota. I couldn't believe it. It sounded too good to be true," Relyea said.
Despite Williston having 11 hotels, and another five on the way, Relyea couldn't find a room.
"Oh it will fill immediately. If we have an opening it will sell that same day. Many, many calls every single day," said Rich Rowell, general manager of Candlewood Inn & Suites.
Relyea had to make a decision. He decided the job was worth it.
"I sleep in my truck. I have a Ford F150. I call it the luxurious hotel Ford F150. You know, I work anywhere from 10, 12, 14 hours a day. So I basically work and sleep, which is what I came here for," Relyea said.
Relyea isn’t alone in his search for housing. The Walmart parking lot was filled with dozens of campers up until two weeks ago. The store threatened to tow vehicles left for more than 24 hours. Police also often spot people sleeping on the street outside of banks and churches. They believe it's a product of poor planning.
"Most people will say well I know it's going to be difficult, but I'll find something. There is nothing. It's not like there are options. There are no motel rooms that are open. There are no apartments that are available. And once again, living in a vehicle is not the way to handle that. So we encourage you to look here, but put that housing number one on your list," said Ward Koeser, mayor of Williston.
Another impact of the immense growth has been rent gouging. The Burns family was forced to leave their apartment this summer after their rent skyrocketed.
"I can't even imagine what someone is thinking and why someone would go from $900 to $2,500. How do they expect families with one income and four kids to pay that? How do they expect anyone to pay that," said Cassie Burns, a previous tenant at Sunrise Enterprise Apartments.
Seniors have also been the victims of this rapid rent hike.
"It made me sick to my stomach. You know, you got these people that have lived here all their lives. They built this area basically, they kept Williston alive, or the whole area alive after the first oil boom that went busy in the late 70s and early 80s. And the thanks they get is triple the rent or get out," said Jerry Schwan, who lives in Williston.
Despite these horror stories, Mayor Koeser says there are many landlords in Williston who have kept their rents at a reasonable price. But he has a message for those who haven't.
"I would ask that these developers don't plan to get all their money back in three years. Let's take a little longer. This oil boom we believe is going to be here for a while so set that amortization up over an extended period of time," Koeser said.
Another booming housing industry is the creation of man camps. In Williams County alone there are 88 man camp facilities, with more than 9,000 people living in them.
"Talking to a lot of the other man camp operators, everyone is getting more requests than they have got rooms for. We're turning people away all of the time," said Roger Thomas, division manager of Burke Lodge Construction.
In just one year county commissioners began losing control, so they put a six-month moratorium on the facilities in September.
"It was getting out of control to where we we’re getting a lot of applications and a lot of people requests. We didn't know how many people would be occupying these man camps and we wanted to see if we were being overbuilt on man camps," said Williams County Commissioner Wayne Aberle.
Since then, commissioners have started an ad-hock committee and they plan on revisiting the six-month moratorium during their first meeting in March. They’re also hoping housing will catch up so more families can come to Williston. And the city is trying to do just that.
The Williston building department had $350-million in building permits in 2011. It permitted 1,017 apartment units and 310 single family homes.
The building department permitted another 40 units just in the month of February. The department is predicting building permits might even double this year and continue at this rapid pace for the next three years.
The mayor says despite all of these housing challenges things will start to turn around for communities in the oil patch.
"I firmly believe that we will be a better town when we're through this bubble than when we started. It won't be the same. We'll never be that little town of 12,500 again. But we could actually be a better town. We can have a quality of life here that will attract people," Koeser said.
But until then, the struggle for housing continues.
"It's the land of opportunity, but it comes with a cost," Relyea said.
The state is offering low-income incentives to construction companies through a housing incentive fund.