Over the weekend, the rest of the country found out what western North Dakotans have know for some time.

It’s expensive to live here.

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Williston is the most expensive place to live in the country based on the average rental rate of a basic, 700-square-foot, one-bedroom apartments. According to data collected by ApartmentGuide.com, a rental website, the average monthly rent for “entry-level apartments” in Williston is $2,394. There was a $513 difference between rents in Williston and No. 2 San Jose, Calif.

Dickinson came in fourth with an average of $1,733 a month.

Five coastal California metropolitan areas were on the top 10 and the other three were Key West, Fla., (No. 5), the Boston metropolitan area (No. 6) and the New York metropolitan area (No. 7). The Los Angeles metropolitan area ranked No. 8.

Dickinson Mayor Dennis Johnson said, in the Bakken, rent boils down to the basic principles of supply and demand.

“I wasn’t surprised by the average rent per month that I saw for Dickinson, but I was surprised that we even made the top 10,” Johnson said.

Dickinson was close to being No. 3, with the average one-bedroom apartment rent only $43 less than the San Francisco metro area.

Though developers are constantly building housing in the Oil Patch hub cities, their costs -- from land to construction -- are also more in the Bakken.

Sierra Ridge Apartment Homes, a new stick-built community that moved in its first residents in December, has many oil field and corporate housing clientele, said rental agent Reanne Prage. One-bedrooms are rented quickly, but the two- and three-bedroom units are laid out in a way that makes it easy to share. The two-bedroom, two-bathroom units separate the bedrooms with common space like living rooms and kitchens.

Their rents are comparable to other newly constructed apartments in the city. A two-bedroom unit toured Monday rents for about $2,200 a month. It includes amenities like access to the fitness center, an onsite recycling center and in-unit washers and dryers, Prage said. Sierra Ridge also background checks all of its residents, adding an extra level of security and peace of mind.

Two of the 12 planned buildings have residents living in them, with another building set to open at the end of February, Prage said. All of Sierra Ridge’s one-bedroom apartments are rented with more hopefully ready in April.

Suburbs factor into metropolitan rankings

Of the top 10 most expensive places, Dickinson, Williston and Key West, Fla., were the only stand-alone cities on the list. The rest were major metropolitan areas containing the city, like New York and Boston, and its suburbs.

The streetcar suburbs of the late 19th century were places where people lived, traveling into the city by streetcar for work, said Margaret Rung, associate professor of history at Roosevelt University in Chicago. Rung teaches a course about historic suburban development.

“The whole purpose was to have access to transportation to get into the city center and into work,” Rung said. “So that pattern was really established in the late 19th century, and then the modes of transportation and the connections between suburbs and cities might change over time, but not the fundamental link.”

After World War II, many families -- especially those headed by white male veterans -- benefited by low-interest mortgages as part of the G.I. Bill and moved out of the cities seeking lower housing costs, Rung said. Often, it was cheaper to live in the suburbs with the cost of the commute than it was in the city.

“Rents in the city core often went up as space became scarce, so people moved to the outskirts of the city or to suburbs, literally in search of cheaper housing,” Rung said. “It was less expensive for people to buy houses in these suburbs … because they were heavily subsidized by the government.”

The suburbs turned from bedroom communities tied to the larger cities to self-sustaining entities where people lived and worked as they grew. But suburbs still depend on the city at the heart of the metropolitan area, Rung said.

“Chicago is the perfect example,” Rung said. “The suburbs rely on transportation hubs like O’Hare (International Airport). O’Hare would not exist without Chicago. You possibly could have a Schaumburg (Ill.) sprouting up in the middle of North Dakota, but it’s unlikely because Schaumburg is connected to the fact that O’Hare is there, and that’s why major corporations feel comfortable opening headquarters in a place like Schaumburg.”

That’s why rents in the New York and Boston suburbs bring down the average in Apartment Guide’s rankings, even though apartments in the cities’ centers may be more than those in Dickinson or Williston.

It’s possible for people in those areas to find cheaper rent if they’re willing to commute or live in less desirable neighborhoods. The same can’t be said for the western North Dakota Oil Patch.

“I thought some of the larger cities ... would be quite a bit higher than us,” Johnson said. “That did surprise me to see that we’re right there with their averages.”

Though he didn’t expect Dickinson to be on this list, Johnson hopes the city can use this ranking to help tell Dickinson’s story to the Legislature.

“It really shows the impact to the communities in the Bakken to have Williston on top of that list, by a comfortable margin actually,” Johnson said. “And Dickinson fourth, almost third, to have these two small communities in western North Dakota that high on the list, I think that really illustrates the impact that oil development is having on the communities in the Bakken.”

Dickinson and Williston aren’t the only impacted communities, either.

“I think it helps to tell the story,” Johnson said. “It’s not just us saying, ‘Hey, we’re being impacted.’ When you have a disinterested third party evaluate rents and Williston’s No. 1 and Dickinson’s No. 4, and $43 more we’d have been third, I think that just illustrates the significance of the impact on these communities.”


These 10 cities topped the list, with average monthly rents for entry-level apartments:

1. Williston, N.D., $2,394

2. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., $1,881

3. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, Calif., $1,776

4. Dickinson, N.D., $1,733

5. Key West, Fla., $1,640

6. Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, Mass.-N.H., $1,537

7. New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, N.Y.-N.J.-Pa., $1,504

8. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, Calif., $1,411

9. Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, Calif., $1,387

10. Santa Barbara-Santa Maria-Goleta, Calif., $1,346

Source: Apartment Guide