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Officials hope study can reveal ways to address housing issues in western N.D.

BISMARCK -- State officials hope a recently completed study of housing needs in western North Dakota's oil country will help cities, developers and policymakers know how to move forward.

BISMARCK -- State officials hope a recently completed study of housing needs in western North Dakota's oil country will help cities, developers and policymakers know how to move forward.

The state Department of Commerce released the results of studies conducted in New Town, Parshall, Stanley, Tioga, Watford City and Williston. The goal was to project the cities' populations over a 20-year period, Commerce Commissioner Shane Goettle said.

"One of the things that we found is a lot of the private sector was desiring some solid information like this upon which they could assess the opportunities in the region for investment purposes," Goettle said. "We hope that it results in an increased look at that region for investments in real estate or more dwelling units for people to live in."

The state's latest oil boom has strained housing markets, resulting in workers living in vehicles, motels and trailers. The cost of rent, homes and motels has soared with the demand for shelter.

More than 23,000 people have been attracted to northwestern North Dakota since 2000, according to the new reports prepared by Ondracek, Witwer & Bertsch of Minot.


The smaller cities studied are each projected to grow by 570 to 830 people from 2010 to 2025. Williston is projected to grow from 16,223 to 23,588 in the same time period. All of the cities are forecasted to dip in population by 2030, but will still remain well above current populations.

Williston officials question the study results, which were collected from August to December. The Associated Press reported Williston Workforce Development Coordinator Shawn Wenko said city officials believe the estimates are too conservative and could hinder housing development. He said oil industry officials have higher population projections.

Goettle said there are limitations to the study in that the population projections are only based on primary and secondary oil drilling and production jobs in North Dakota. They do not take into account potential gains from other sectors and, therefore, are conservative estimates, he said.

Still, the studies allow communities to look at infrastructure needs for the future and serve as a resource for state policymakers, Goettle said.

Common themes throughout the reports are housing affordability and the need for subsidized housing for lower-income residents. "Those who do not qualify for subsidized housing and do not earn incomes approaching the city's median are under extreme pressure," the report said.

All of the cities experienced big gains in median household income from 2000 to 2010. In 2000, the median ranged from $23,993 to $29,740. Now, the median ranges from $44,900 to $55,000.

The report suggests housing solutions may include attached single-story suites initially intended for extended-stay use. As need dictates, two of these suites could be joined as an apartment. Later, the apartments could be sold as condos.

The report says cities need to encourage development of temporary housing that could be withdrawn or used for other purposes if employment drops.


The McKenzie County Job Development Authority in Watford City has already shared its study results with several developers, Executive Director Gene Veeder said.

"It kind of verified what we thought was going on," he said. "You see so many temporary people, but you don't know what the industry is going to hold long term."

The study is one piece of several that will be used for local planning, Veeder said.

Stanley City Coordinator Ward Heidbreder said his initial thought is that the study wasn't given enough time and doesn't take into account environmental, regulatory and legislative issues.

All of the report recommendations for Stanley are already being addressed, he said.

North Dakota Housing Finance Agency Executive Director Mike Anderson said state agencies, legislators and the governor's office need to work with oil communities to come up with a plan to address the housing challenges.

"We'll be looking at ways, in terms of working with the Legislature, that we can provide some funding and some resources of some form that can address the affordable housing issues that are going on in the area," he said.

Finneman is a multimedia reporter for Forum Communications Co., which owns the Herald.

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