As the oil patch rebounds the state will face renewed challenges. While better positioned to handle the oil activity with the infrastructure buildup during the boom, there still are areas of concern.
There are housing issues that need to be resolved. In Williston the first quarter of 2018 has been very successful. They sold more homes in the quarter than any other quarter, even during the boom years of 2012 and 2014. Despite that, Realtors and developers know they are facing a single-family housing crunch in the coming months. With an influx of workers there will be an increasing demand for housing. Apartments and hotels in Williston are at 90 percent to 95 occupancy at the moment so they can’t absorb too many workers. The expectations are those units will be occupied shortly. The city is facing a single-family housing shortage as early as this summer.
While homebuilders are aware of the needs it takes time to put up a home. A group of stakeholders recently gathered to formulate a plan of action in Williston. Mike Dolbec, president of the Williston Area Builders Association, was encouraged by promises of city and county officials to help. Homebuilders would like to see steps taken to reduce building costs. They would like the city to allow a less expensive type of rebar and a new type of concrete form that could allow basements without Sheetrock.
Dolbec told reporter Jessica Holdman that new ordinances since 2015 have added to the cost of homebuilding and he hopes the city will relax some of the new requirements, such as not requiring landscaping by the builders. These challenges aren’t new as similar issues arose during the boom. During the slowdown in the Bakken there was less demand for new housing but that’s apparently going to change again. Builders also encounter extra costs if they bring subcontractors from other cities in the state to help.
The homes that are available are listed for sale in the $250,000 to $330,000 range and the $330,000 to $400,000 range, according to the Multiple Listing Service. So buyers face a big commitment when purchasing a home.
Issues similar to the ones in Williston will confront other communities in the oil patch.
The oil-related jobs are already available. Job Service North Dakota’s Williston office has 2,000 job openings advertised. A North Dakota State University study in 2016 predicts 60 percent population growth in Williams County by 2029 — that’s about 1,600 new people per year. That could mean more than 500 homes will be needed.
Job openings in Divide, McKenzie and Williams counties in March were the highest since July 2015, according to Job Service. Jobs involving hydraulic fracturing, pipelines, truck driving and drone operation are available, according to Cindy Sanford with the Williston Job Service office. Sanford also said the three northwestern counties have a big need for health care professionals and about 40 teachers. “Just in (Divide, McKenzie and Williams counties) alone, they have 500 kindergartners registered for this year,” Sanford said. The Williston School District saw, on average, 19 new students each week during this school year.
The planning meeting held recently in Williston is a good sign. Local communities and the state must be prepared for a renewed burst of activity. With bypasses added and improved highways along with pipelines reducing the reliance on trucks, the traffic shouldn’t be so hectic in the future. The area is better positioned to serve workers and their families. Businesses and restaurants that opened during the oil boom have gone through a lull, but should be able to handle the new demand.
Housing will be a key issue. We know the challenges communities will face and now’s the time to begin resolving them. The oil patch wants to do business, but in an orderly and calm manner.