Local Officials In Williston Are About To Make The Housing Shortage A Lot Worse


There’s no question that housing shortages are a big issue in North Dakota. Booming population growth, uncertain capital, and a weather-constrained construction season have created a situation where demand for a place to live is seriously outstripping supply. Thus the (somewhat exaggerated) national stories about apartments in the state’s oil patch costing as much as they do in pricey urban centers like Manhattan.

In a recent Gallup analysis, North Dakota led the nation in citizen satisfaction, but the one area where citizens of this state had below-average satisfaction was the area of affordable housing. Some leaders in Williston, the epicenter of the state’s oil boom, have compared housing shortages to a natural disaster. Others are making noises about rent control.

Suffice it to say, intemperate reactions aside, there’s a real problem.

So why, then, are local leaders so intent on making the problem worse?

I’ve written before about the war on temporary housing in western, North Dakota. Next month a crack down on temporary housing is going to take place in Williston, and I’m not sure the fallout is going to be pretty:

At least four companies are facing significant fines and others could follow as 29 separate temp-housing permits approach their October expiration dates.

The lowest fine is about $2 million and the highest is more than $6 million.

The expiration dates—Oct. 1 and 31—were set last year when the Williams County Commission renewed a mass of conditional use permits to expire at the same time.

“Last year, the board approved a group of them, and gave them ‘til Oct. 31 to remove their RVs,” said Ray Pacheco, the county planning director. The intention is to eliminate temporary housing and RV camps as permanent housing becomes more readily available.

“We’re not trying to destroy lives, but at some point temporary housing does need to fade away,” Pacheco said. “Some people think ‘temporary’ is a ten-year period. That’s extreme.”

But where are all these people going to live?

To be sure, there are valid concerns about temporary housing like RV parks ranging from safety to aesthetics. But does it make sense, at a time when the prices for permanent housing are through the roof because there’s so much more demand than supply, to dump more people out of their temporary housing into the permanent housing market?

Mr. Pacheco says his city is not looking to ruin people’s lives, but notes that the length of use of temporary housing is becoming “extreme.” But wouldn’t it make more sense to let the market pace this transition from temporary to permanent housing?

What seems extreme, to me, is this push to be rid of temporary housing when there’s not enough permanent housing. That’s only going to exacerbate existing problems with high rents and shortages.