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Oil boom causes high prices, housing shortage in Stanley

Dorothy Lantto sits in her Stanley, N.D., apartment, an affordable home she found after wrestling with increasing rent and cramped spaces for years. Kile Brewer Forum News Service1 / 3
North Dakota social worker Beth Hanretty sits in her office in Stanley. After college, Hanretty moved to Stanley, taking advantage of subsidized housing which allowed her to pay a reasonable amount for rent in the boom town. 2 / 3
Kile Brewer / Forum News Service A drawing of Terrance Lantto hangs on a wall in the bedroom in Stanley resident Dorothy Lantto's apartment. Terrance died, which left Dorothy on her own around the time Stanley started to grow as a result of the oil boom in the small town. 3 / 3

STANLEY, N.D. — For Dorothy Lantto, the price is finally right.

Lantto, 69, of Stanley, sat watching “The Price is Right,” a popular TV game show, in her new income-based one-bedroom apartment at Southside Apartments, which is where she has been since May 1 thanks to the help of Mountrail County Social Services.

“I cannot complain one iota about what I pay here,” Lantto said recently.

She pays less than $200 per month in rent thanks to the help of a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development rental assistance program.

“You won’t find a thing else in this town this low,” Lantto said.

Unless you qualify for income-based housing, Lantto’s statement holds true.

Although it hasn’t received as much national attention as Williston, Stanley is still experiencing rapid growth because of North Dakota’s oil boom. Workers chasing near-six-digit oil industry salaries have caused the population to spike from 1,278 at the time of the 2010 census to what city and county officials estimate is now between 2,000 and 2,500.

As a result, the housing demand has pushed prices to levels most residents of Stanley can’t afford.

According to Bryan Quigley, director of Mountrail County Social Services, it is hard to find a one-bedroom apartment in Stanley for less than $1,800 per month, if you can even find a vacancy.

“We’ve got a little housing in this town, but you better be an oil magnate to afford it,” said Pat Fern, who also works for Mountrail County Social Services.

For Lantto, who is retired, housing troubles began in 2011 when she was evicted from the mobile home she had lived in for five years with her husband, Terrence.

The couple were unable to afford rent after it increased from $250 a month to $1,000 a month. The home’s owner, Larry Matte, said he raised the rent because the Lanttos were bad renters and he had no other way to evict them. He refused to comment when asked if he kept the rent at the $1,000 rate after they left.

Moving on

From there, the Lanttos moved into one bedroom in a four-bedroom house, where Lantto said they paid $600 per month and shared one bathroom with the house’s other tenants. The house’s owner, Mary Fleming, said she charged only $400 per month.

When Terrence Lantto died of a stroke in 2012, Dorothy Lantto said she was unable to afford rent. She was nearly out of money when she got into her new apartment.

Even in her new apartment, Lantto, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease and diabetes and has had both foot and knee surgery, still is unable to buy a headstone for Terrence’s grave in Belden Finnish Cemetery just south of Stanley.

While renters like Lantto face escalating rates, some homeowners are struggling to pay property taxes. Fern said her house was valued at $58,000 when she bought it in 2004. In 2013, she said it was worth $156,000, even though the only improvement she made was installing new windows.

Fleming said her home also has spiked in value and is worth almost twice as much as it used to be, tempting her to sell and move back to Kansas.

When these people reach retirement age, the opportunity to sell often convinces them to leave the area.

“There are a lot of people moving out of the community that reach retirement age,” Quigley said. “They’re able to get a wonderful price for their house, enough to go down to Bismarck, and that’s what they do.”

But for a town to survive, not everyone can move out, which has caused some difficulties in the public and business sectors.

Tight market

Quigley said the combination of an economic boom and a housing shortage has made it difficult to recruit employees to the area.

To remedy the problem, Quigley said the schools, city and county have built their own employee housing to subsidize part of the rent, which is based on income.

One of these employees is Beth Hanretty, a 23-year-old social services case manager, who moved from Bismarck to take the job. Hanretty said she hadn’t heard of Stanley before applying for the job, but was surprised by the housing prices.

“Everything I found was definitely out of my price range,” she said. “Once I started looking at rent, if they wouldn’t have been able to promise housing, I wouldn’t have taken the job.”

So now, instead of paying the $1,800 monthly rate for the cheapest one-bedroom apartment she could find in town, she lives in a three-bedroom twin home for less than $700 per month, which was what she paid for the two-bedroom Bismarck apartment she shared with her 1-year-old son, Roman.

Fleming, who works at Subway in addition to renting out the house where Lantto used to stay, said businesses in town are also having trouble finding housing for employees.

“Our store owner is looking for housing for his people and it’s pretty tight,” Fleming said. “It’s just not oil companies that are having problems, it’s (also) the small businesses in town here.”

Unknown future

Dorothy Lantto keeps an old Smucker’s jar, filled with crude oil, sitting on top of her television. It came from her father-in-law Alfred Lantto’s farm in the 1980s. He didn’t believe the oil boom would ever take off in North Dakota, so he sold the farm — and the mineral rights.

More than 30 years later, all Dorothy has to show for her father-in-law’s mistake is the jam jar.

“I guess you can say I’m oil rich,” Lantto joked.

But Lantto said she is glad she doesn’t have oil money because she has seen the greed it has created in the community.

“I don’t need that kind of garbage,” she said.

Fern agreed that despite the developments and improvements — including an array of new stores and restaurants — the oil boom has brought to Stanley, it hasn’t been all good.

“I never knew there were that many greedy people in Stanley, but the oil boom brought them out,” Fern said.

Bryan Quigley said he has reached out to oil companies with the hope that they would do something to help out Stanley. He said he’s written letters asking for funding to help those who are in need of low-income housing, but he has either been ignored or gotten denial letters.

Ironically enough, he said that on the same day he received a denial letter, he saw that an oil company had donated $50,000 to political candidates.

Despite the trouble she had finding affordable housing, Lantto is just happy to have found something out of reach of the oil boom’s price tag. She said she is no longer concerned with the past.

Fern said the future is the biggest concern in Stanley. When the oil boom ends, the oil money will dry up and housing prices will most likely deflate. But the new apartment complexes and stores have been built, and they will be at risk of failing if Stanley’s population recedes to pre-boom levels.

“That’s the big question around here: How long is the oil going to last, and what’s going to happen when it’s gone?” Fern said.

Lantto doesn’t plan on sticking around to find out. She wants to return to Shelton, Wash., and her family there.

But only after she puts a headstone on her husband’s grave.

Garrett Richie
Garrett Richie is a general assignment reporter and digital writer for The Grand Forks Herald. Richie is a 2014 graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism and is formerly of The Ludington Daily News in Ludington, Mich. Have a good story idea? Contact Richie by either phone or email, both of which are listed below. If you would like to comment on a story, send a letter to the editor with Richie's name and phone number. Generally, letters should be no longer than 250 words, and all letters are subject to editing. Email to or mail to The Grand Forks Herald.
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