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Workforce campaign must wrestle with housing

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opinion Jamestown, 58401
Jamestown Sun
701-251-2873 customer support
Jamestown North Dakota 121 3rd St NW 58401

North Dakota needs workers. And by launching a campaign to recruit a permanent workforce, the North Dakota Economic Development Foundation is on the right track.

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But a huge obstacle is blocking the road to population growth, almost as stubbornly as the lack of jobs once did. This recent spate of national headlines captures the problem:

“A North Dakota town where the rent is really, really high” — The Atlantic

“If you need a home in North Dakota: Good luck” — Fox Business

“What’s the most expensive town in the U.S.? The answer may surprise you” — Apartment Guide

Apartment Guide answered its own question this way, in a report that drew national attention:

“Welcome to Williston, N.D., where the oil industry has caused the population to more than double in the past five years. And, according to Apartment Guide data, you’ll pay more to live in a small apartment here than you would anywhere else in the country.

“A 700-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-bath apartment in Williston easily can cost more than $2,000 per month. Looking for a little more space? A three-bedroom, three-bath apartment could cost as much as $4,500 per month.”

Obviously, the problem is housing, the same issue that has been dogging Grand Forks (to a much lesser degree). In both cases — but doubly or triply so out West — the issue is that home and apartment prices have jumped up a whole lot faster than median incomes have.

As a result, those homes and apartments that do become available are priced out of most people’s reach. In Williston, the rent hikes are so steep that long-time tenants are being forced out of their own apartments.

“I never knew what day I would open my door and find a note saying they would raise it 30 days later,” said Bessie Larmer to New York magazine. Larmer was reflecting on why she’d had to leave her one bedroom apartment in Williston — the rent on which had risen to $1,250 a month from $350, which is where it had been in the early 2000s.

Larmer, by the way, is 76.

“Find the Good Life in North Dakota” is the North Dakota Economic Development Foundation’s name for its campaign.

“We’re a state with great schools, friendly people, supportive and safe communities, arts and entertainment, tremendous outdoor recreation and, of course, great job opportunities,” as a leader of the campaign described.

And we are. But we’re also a state where retirees are being priced out of their apartments, and some seniors even are having to leave their hometowns.

The shortage of housing — not the lack of information — is the core issue, the foundation should realize. That’s what’s stopping more families from moving here, and that’s where the foundation should concentrate its efforts in order to do the most good.

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