Posted 11/10/15 (Tue)
By Neal A. Shipman
What to do about the temporary workforce housing issue in Watford City has been a subject that has been on the minds of the Watford City City Council ever since it started granting conditional use permits (CUPs) six years ago.
When the Bakken exploded in western North Dakota six years ago, the lack of housing to accommodate the thousands of oilfield workers pouring into the region posed huge challenges for places like Watford City and McKenzie County. There weren’t enough apartments, trailer courts or RV parks in the city or the county to handle the onslaught of people pouring in to fill all of the jobs.
At the time, the only option that the city council had to help meet the housing need was to issue conditional use permits to existing property owners who then provided space for campers and cabins throughout the city.
The city council knew that the granting of these temporary workforce housing CUPs was going to be a short-term fix to help remedy the immediate housing shortage problem.
But, as everyone knows, sometimes coming up with a quick, short-term solution can very often become a long-term problem. Which is exactly what the Watford City City Council discovered. While the people that received the CUPs knew that the permits were subject to an annual review and renewal by the city council, many thought that the permits would continue to be renewed for as long as they wanted them.
Which is why when the city council first brought up the matter of setting an expiration date for those CUPs last June, the council was met by an outcry from the permit holders. Obviously, those people that are providing the temporary workforce housing units under those CUPs don’t want to lose their income stream. And they can argue that the people who are living in their cabins or renting trailer space don’t want to live in one of the thousands of new apartments that have been built in Watford City over the last two years.
Those arguments to keep the CUPs for temporary workforce housing are no longer valid. And the city council has taken the right step to give the holders of those permits until Dec. 1, 2016, to either eliminate that housing or to bring it into compliance with the city’s zoning ordinances.
Watford City is definitely not facing the same housing crisis that it was facing when the city council decided years ago it was in the best interest of the city to issue temporary workforce housing conditional use permits. Today, there are new homes and apartments that are meeting the city’s housing needs.
If Watford City is going to continue to be the poster child for how a small North Dakota community can grow and develop into a town of 10,000 people or more almost overnight, it is going to take a city council that is willing to bend the rules when it needs to, but also know when the time is right to make everyone play by the same rules.
The setting of Dec. 1, 2016, as the expiration date for temporary workforce housing conditional use permits gives the holders of those permits plenty of time to make their plans. And it gives those people who are renting cabins or camper space in those areas more than enough time to find other housing in Watford City.