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Build Baby Build: Speaker at housing summit says 7,000 homes needed in Williston

New homes are being constructed in Williston to meet the high demand for housing. Organizers of the Bakken Housing Summit held in Williston this week are calling for 5,000 new houses to be built in 24 months.

WILLISTON -- In the Bakken, the latest slogan is, "Build, baby, build."

A Bakken Housing Summit hosted in Williston this week calls for 5,000 new homes to be built in 24 months.

Organizer Jeff Zarling said that 5,000 may not be the magic number, but the theme was designed to convey the magnitude of the oil boom on western North Dakota's housing needs to stakeholders around the country.

It worked.

More than 350 people from 33 states are attending the sold-out summit, representing developers, builders, investors and others in the construction industry.

Peter Elzi, principal of THK Associates, who does market feasibility work for builders and developers, told attendees that Williston has an immediate need for 7,000 homes.

Over the next decade, Williston will need about 25,000 homes, said Elzi, whose Colorado firm has been working in the Bakken for two years.

Dickinson is every bit as explosive as Williston, Elzi said, and other Oil Patch communities also have significant housing needs.

"There's a lot of money to be made, and a lot of money to be lost if you mess it up," Elzi said.

A major challenge to developing housing in the Bakken is the rising cost of property. Elzi said he's heard of some land prices in Williston as high as $250,000 an acre.

James Powell of Northwest Property Management in Chicago said he'd like to build houses in North Dakota, but some of the land prices are so out of control that the projects don't cash flow.

"That's the big rub right now," Powell said.

Powell said he may look to build in Bismarck or an area that has more stable prices.

Tom Rolfstad, executive director for Williston Economic Development, said city officials are emphasizing a need for more single-family homes rather than more apartment buildings.

That will help Williston attract more families, which will in turn help fill more of the city's job vacancies, Rolfstad said.

JRA Development of Louisiana is looking to build in North Dakota after helping communities rebuild after Hurricane Katrina, said Gary Ashley of Rapid City, S.D., who was hired to represent the firm.

"We have the ability to start from scratch and build up," Ashley said.

The firm is developing RV parks in Watford City to test the waters, Ashley said.

Some challenges that make investors hesitant about developing housing in western North Dakota are the difficulties in getting sewer, water and other infrastructure and the zoning rules that some communities are changing, Ashley said.

The summit's goal is to help the developers and other stakeholders make connections to speed up the building process, said Zarling, president of DAWA Solutions Group, a Williston business development firm.

The summit also presented information about how to do business in North Dakota and the economic climate.

Williston Mayor Ward Koeser told attendees the oil boom creates a lot of opportunities for housing developers from other parts of the country.

"We need people like you to be in our community," Koeser said. "We're just a small community, we don't have the builders, the developers, the investors, all the different people that we need to make this happen."

Dalrymple is a Forum Communications Co. reporter stationed in the Oil Patch.