Williston City Leaders Should Blame Themselves For High Rents


“City looking for answers”

That’s the headline from the Williston Herald over an article documenting protests over high rents and local city leaders asking the state for solutions, including asking for an opinion from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem on whether or not rent control policies would be legal.

Yes, rent control.

The rent control push is being lead by Democrat state Senate candidate Barbara Vondell, but city council members want assistance from the state and/or federal government.

Some are describing it as a “natural disaster.”

“This is kind of a natural disaster,” said Lee Steen, a Williston resident not affected by the rising rents but supportive nonetheless. “I’m not saying we need FEMA trailers in here right away, but when you go to Bismarck, let them know it’s a natural disaster.”

Commissioner Brad Bekkedahl, who is also running for state Senate, said he was troubled with stories of the elderly being forced to abandon their homes.

“Floods have displaced people,” Bekkedahl said. “This is displacing people. It’s a different way of displacement.”

The thing is, this “disaster” is hardly natural. It’s very much man-made, and I’m not talking about the fact that housing demand is being driven by a booming western economy. Rather, very specific actions taken by local government leaders has exacerbated rents. And, frankly, the local leaders ought to take some responsibility for them.

“Officials in the heart of the North Dakota oil patch are continuing their efforts to rid the area of temporary housing,” reported the Associated Press back on February 8th, describing the decision by Williams County (Williston) to shoot down two permits for temporary housing.

“After month of behind-the-scenes work, Williams County has begun to initiate a plan to reduce the number of temporary housing units in the county,” reported the Williston Herald back in June of 2013.

Back in 2012, the City of Williston was pushing to ban so-called “man camps” which are temporary housing developments put together to house workers.

That same year Williston also cracked down on people living in RV campers in the city.

Given this driven bureaucrat assault on temporary housing, is it really any surprise that the area is now grappling with housing prices? The people who were in that temporary housing, or who would have been in that temporary housing, have been pushed into the market for permanent housing. That inflated demand for housing and, since supply has been slow to keep up, also inflated prices.

There is no question that rents would have gone up in Williston even without these attacks by local government on temporary housing. But rents wouldn’t have gone up as much, and local city and county leaders need to take the blame for that.

Certainly, we need to stop blaming the free market which was simply responding to market signals and public policy.