Oil Patch County Boots Man Camps, Ensures That Rents Stay Higher For Longer

Not so long ago North Dakota, specifically North Dakota’s oil patch communities, were making national headlines about having some of the highest rents in the nation. The reason why was simple.

The oil boom brought a lot of people to small western North Dakota towns that didn’t have a lot of available housing. High demand, low supply, prices went up.

And even though the oil boom is over now, and rents have fallen somewhat, prices are still pretty high because oil activity has proven fairly resilient in the face of falling oil prices.

So the news that Williams County (Williston) has chosen to give so-called “man camps” (temporary dormitories built to house oil workers) the boot isn’t really good news.

“The Williams County Commission on Tuesday adopted new guidelines to phase out temporary housing, including crew camps, RV and trailer parks and modular homes,” reports the Williston Herald.

I think this guy’s reaction was spot-on:

“The rents aren’t coming down,” said Rick Rodgers, owner of Epping-based Mondak Portables, LLC, who was approved for a two-year CUP on 10 mobile homes Tuesday. “I think for some companies, like us, we’re down 60 percent of what we were last year…. You guys say you can’t control the rents; well, you kind of can. Until the rents come down to a reasonable rate, let the man camps stay open.”

Temporary housing – everything from RV parks to the “man camps” – has been a pressure relief valve for overburdened housing markets in places like Williston, Tioga, and Watford City. I’m not sure that now is the proper time to block off that valve. I’m not sure if there ever is a right time. If oil prices skyrocket again, and we see another influx of workers, whose fault will it be when rents for permanent housing go through the roof again?

And even if that doesn’t happen, closing off temporary housing is only going to push more people into a still-crowded housing market that is only now starting to catch up.

The cynic in me thinks the motivation here is to keep housing prices high to please developers, and that’s too bad.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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