BEACH - Bill Holzwarth feels like a marked man in town.
He's taking heat in Beach for buying apartment houses, evicting the tenants and making an exclusive housing deal for employees of Power Fuels, an oil field service company.
Those who were displaced either moved away from town, or found somewhere else cheaper to live.
Part of the rub is that Holzwarth is not a faceless oil corporation, but a local citizen who is branch manager at Bank of the West on Main Street and who has coffee every morning at the same restaurant where one of the displaced tenants is employed.
In that respect, it's personal. It's also and perhaps unfortunately, a fact of life in a growing number of oil patch towns.
Beach is still somewhat removed from the oil drilling boom. Of 173 rigs in North Dakota, only one is in Golden Valley County, where Beach is the county seat.
It is not totally out of the fray and it is well positioned for Power Fuels, which services wells in North Dakota and Montana.
The problem is that the loss of relatively cheap housing affects those who need it most and who the towns need most - the waiters, the store clerks, the grandparents, the starting teachers and cops, and the like.
Jessica Thomasson, a housing specialist, develops affordable housing projects for Lutheran Social Services. The agency will start work this fall on a new nine-unit rental complex and rehabbing three existing homes in Beach.
The agency is working to put affordable housing throughout the oil patch, with projects in towns like Parshall, Stanley and Belfield.
"It would be unfortunate if North Dakota found itself in the same situation as Colorado, where there is no housing for the low wage earner," she said. "I hope we're able to figure it out before we get there."
In Beach, Holzwarth's most outspoken critic is local businessman Jerry DeMartin.
He said someone has to speak up for the single mother of a 4-year-old boy who Holzwarth evicted and the widow whose rent he doubled.
DeMartin said a lack of decency toward others changes the character of a community.
"I've got nothing against making an honest buck in the oil industry," DeMartin said. "This is not illegal, but it's not morally honest. There's no honor in putting someone out in the street. That little kid just lost his bedroom where he sleeps at night."
From his work at the bank, Holzwarth said he frequently hears from people looking for investment opportunities. He said it was only a matter of time: Either he bought the apartments, or someone else did.
"Someone else was going to come in and buy these, I knew it was going to happen," he said.
He kept one of the original tenants, the widow DeMartin talks about, who is good friend of Holzwarth's wife. He did raise her rent from $300 a month to $750, a little less than the other apartments.
For those, he gets one check from Power Fuels and he said the company takes care of credit checks, drug tests and keeping the apartments filled.
"The intent was to make it easy for me. It was a hard decision to do, but we thought we were saving (his wife's friend from being evicted by someone else)," he said.
Carolyn Weaver, owner of the Backyard Bar, sold one of the apartment buildings to Holzwarth. She said she and her husband, Jim, didn't sleep the night they heard the eviction notices went out.
"They were all good people," she said. She doesn't think it's a matter of greed on his part.
"That's the hard part about oil, you can get more money, but if it goes away, all that's left is the people who were here," she said.
Traci Cunningham, 24, and her son, Dean, 4, were evicted from the apartment building Holzwarth purchased from Cunningham's employer, Natalie Murato, who owns the LaPlaya Restaurant in Beach.
Cunningham she said got the eviction news June 2. "It was scary. I didn't know what I was going to do. The thing that bothers me is that I grew up in a big city and that's how they run over there. Here, I thought was different. This man knows me. He knows there's no place to live," she said.
She has since found a house to rent-share with her sister and her sister's children.
Murato said she wouldn't have sold Holzwarth the apartments had she known he'd "kick everybody out. There's such a shortage of housing for the little guys that keep the town running. Bill (Holzwarth) has to know the housing situation. What did he expect these people to do?"
DeMartin said the only thing the community can do is "call him out for violating the standard of decency we live by."
Holzwarth said DeMartin doesn't have the whole story.
He says he did evict tenants initially, but had second thoughts and said they could stay if they chose to, but at the rate of $850 a month, more than double what they had been paying. None wanted to, he said.
Still, he said that's much less than the going rate of $1,200 to $1,400 monthly for small one-bedrooms in Belfield or Dickinson.
Belfield, a town much more centralized in the oil boom, went through a similar situation when an oil-related company recently bought an apartment complex for its employees and evicted the current tenants.
The 12 units that Lutheran Social Services will start building this fall in Belfield will help, but it's only the tip of a housing shortage iceberg, said Terry Johnson, a member of the Belfield Housing Authority.
Single-wides going for $2,000 a month in town are "exorbitant, I think," Johnson said.
Rather than put up man camps, which at least keep temporary workers out of the residential rental mix, Johnson said he wishes oil companies would build permanent quality apartments that would serve Belfield for decades to come.
In the meantime, "I don't know what we're gonna do without the small guy in town. Not everyone makes oil-field wages. I'm concerned about it," Johnson said.
Deb Walworth, economic developer for Beach, said there is no opportunity to talk about the housing situation with "oil," because it's a conglomeration of independent businesses.
"Oil marches to its own drummer, going off on their own and doing what they do for their own reasons," she said. "We try to find housing for those that are displaced."
Walworth said Holzwarth has a right to do what he wants with his own property. "People want to make hay while the sun shines. I just hope they use common sense," she said.
Holzwarth said he would do it differently if he could do it over.
"I am having second thoughts. I invested in Beach and I got beat up a little bit. I would do it again, but I wouldn't evict them and then give them the option. I would have said they could stay at the new rent," Holzwarth said.
"Is this right or wrong? I don't know," he said. "I'm approaching it as an investment."
(Reach reporter Lauren Donovan at 220-5511, or firstname.lastname@example.org.)