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AS I SEE IT

Posted 9/28/11 (Wed)

By Neal A. Shipman
Farmer Editor

If there is one thing that everyone in Watford City can agree on it is that there is a huge need for quality, affordable housing.
Yes, there is housing available. But the skid shacks, camper trailers and the other forms of temporary work force housing that are everywhere in and around Watford City are neither quality forms of housing nor are they affordable.
While oil companies may be able to afford shelling out $2,500 per month for their workers to live in these units, paying that level of rent is not possible for many other people. Heck, most non-oilfield workers that are trying to live and work in this area aren’t even paid $2,500 per month.
And to be honest, most people would agree that charging $2,500 for these small, spartan forms of housing is “highway robbery.” But it is also the free market system. So long as there is a huge demand for a very limited amount of housing, the market will dictate the rent.
And the high rents are literally crippling the community. Employers, whether it be the school district, the healthcare system, the city, the county or Main Street businesses, cannot hire employees to move into the area simply because of the high rents. No non-oilfield worker can afford to pay their employees a housing allowance of $30,000 a year on top of their salary.
To make matters worse, no developers were coming forward in Watford City to build apartments for the normal worker. The return on their investment was too low and it would take too many years for them to pay off the debt. It was much simpler for them to invest as little as possible and cater to the high dollars that the oilfield is willing to pay.
There didn’t seem to be a way out of the spiraling low supply-high rent circle that was facing Watford City.
Or at least there didn’t seem to be a viable answer to the housing problem until Mark Johnsrud and Power Fuels decided that they were going to up the ante in their efforts to provide housing for their employees.
This week, the Farmer is carrying a front page story on Power Fuels’ plans to build a housing project in Watford City unlike anything that has ever been done in western North Dakota. When the project is completed in a little over a year, Power Fuels will have constructed six 42-unit apartments, 54 patio homes, 40 twin homes and 118 single family homes, as well as developed a commercial complex for oil field offices.
It is without a doubt the single largest housing and commercial development that Watford City has ever seen. It is a massive undertaking by a private company that carries with it a multi-million dollar price tag. And it carries with it an obvious financial risk to Power Fuels. But, according to Johnsrud, it is an undertaking that he believed was necessary if his company was going to be able to successfully recruit and retain workers that the company intends to hire in the future.
Yes, Power Fuels is building housing for its employees. But this volume of housing is going to have a huge impact in Watford City. Obviously, there will be some housing available for non-Power Fuels employees. How much is not known at this time. But the bottom line is that this additional housing should result in a general lowering of rents in and around the community. And that is good news for everyone who is looking to find a place to rent.
But more importantly, what Power Fuels is proposing to do speaks volumes about their level of commitment to the Watford City area and their belief that this community is not only a good place to work but also a good place for their employees to move their families to.
It is a level of commitment that other oilfield companies who are wanting to put down roots in Watford City should want to emulate.