Posted 3/15/16 (Tue)
By Neal A. Shipman
The City of Williston City Council is drawing a fair amount of heat from operators of man camps as the city has given notice that all man camps within the city limits must close by July 1. While it is understandable that the man camp operators want to maintain the status quo and continue to operate, Williston’s City Council needs to be commended for taking the tough stand.
The efforts of oil patch communities, like Williston and Watford City, to transition from this form of temporary housing to more permanent housing is not only understandable, but it is needed. Not matter how well a man camp is designed or managed, it still remains just what it is - temporary housing.
When the oil boom began in western North Dakota, Williston, Watford City, Tioga and Stanley were overwhelmed with the huge influx of workers that came to the oil patch seeking employment. At that time, there was no housing options available to meet the demands of the thousands of new workers flooding into these areas. Man camps were the only option.
But today, with the slowdown in oil activity, the number of man camps that were created are no longer needed to house those tens of thousands of oil field workers. Many of the man camps that were built during the height of the boom are now standing vacant, or are operating at very low occupancy.
And, in cities like Williston and Watford City, developers have stepped up and built new apartment buildings and motels that have lessened the need for man camps.
So the question that is now facing the city and county commissions in the oil patch is which form of housing do they want to encourage - the developers of temporary housing (ie. the man camps) or the developers of permanent housing (ie. the apartments, motels and home developers)?
The obvious answer is these oil patch cities need to do what they need to do to help make their communities whole again and to remove these man camps from within their city limits.
Understandably, the decision to close man camps within the city limits is going to have a negative impact on the operators of man camps, as well as to the oil field companies that have relied upon them for meeting their housing needs.
But alternative housing options do exist for oil field workers. As a result of the slowdown, apartment rents in the patch have plummeted. And in many cases, the occupancy levels in these newly-constructed apartments is low enough that companies could rent entire buildings to house their employees.
While it is not the business of government to decide who will be the “winners” or “losers” in meeting the housing needs of oil field workers, it is government’s business to decide what are the best housing options that it wants to see developed in their communities.
In this case, Williston and Watford City are making the right decision as they transition away from man camps and toward permanent housing to meet their community’s housing needs.
Man camps definitely met a need several years ago. But that need no longer exists.