Oil boom, flood recovery boost Minot housing demand
MINOT -- Dennis Roerick remembers it as the worst Father's Day of his life. It was June 19, 2011, when he and his wife, JoAnn, heard warnings on the 10 p.m. news about the rising Souris River. The river, expected to crest higher than the city's l...
MINOT - Dennis Roerick remembers it as the worst Father’s Day of his life.
It was June 19, 2011, when he and his wife, JoAnn, heard warnings on the 10 p.m. news about the rising Souris River.
The river, expected to crest higher than the city’s levees could handle, put the Roericks’ home, nestled in Minot’s Souris River Valley, in jeopardy.
Days later, the Roericks, like thousands of other Minot residents, rushed to evacuate their homes in the wake of a record-breaking flood. JoAnn Roerick, 69, said it took the couple nearly six hours to drive the few miles out of the valley and into parts of the city on higher ground. They weren’t able to go back for most of their belongings.
The Roericks lost their newly remodeled house and their painting business, said Dennis Roerick, 60.
“You just lose everything in one night,” he said.
The flood destroyed more than 4,100 homes at a time when the oil boom in western North Dakota, attracting workers from across the country, pinched the housing supply in the region. So, as North Dakota experienced an affordable housing shortage statewide, the Minot region saw a two-fold crunch.
Experts say the oil boom started to pressure Minot’s housing market in about 2008, and the loss of housing stock during the 2011 flood exasperated the problem. At one point, the citywide apartment vacancy rate stood at 0.02 percent.
In recent months, as developers build more apartments, relief appears in sight. The apartment vacancy rate is now up to 3.3 percent, said Danelle Zietz, rental property manager for First Minot Management.
The housing market likely will stabilize, but issues remain.
“It will continue to be tight,” said Mark Austin, occupancy director for the Minot Housing Authority. “But day by day, things continue to improve in Minot.”
As the oil boom boosts the city’s growth, Minot doesn’t feel like a small town anymore, many residents said. Bustling traffic fills the streets, making daily commutes a little bit longer. Stores and restaurants are busier, too.
And the town of about 46,000, home to the North Dakota State Fair, Minot State University and Minot Air Force Base, is projected to keep growing.
Effects of the 2011 flood are still prevalent, though.
Along the river, there are still many severely damaged houses, dubbed locally as “zombie homes.” Some homes remain idle and empty, and boards cover the openings of others. Many of them sit in between houses that have been rebuilt since the flood.
The musty garage of one zombie home provides shelter to an abandoned car with broken windows. Tools coated in rust hang from the walls, and broken holiday decorations litter the concrete floor.
When the flood forced thousands of people to abandon their homes, many took refuge in unusual circumstances that still affect their living situations today.
Marla Triplett, her 15-year-old daughter and her elderly mother moved into the home of a distant acquaintance - the sister of Triplett’s ex-husband’s friend.
“That’s how this town was during the flood. People just took you in,” Triplett said. Hotels and apartments were full. “There was nowhere to go.”
Likewise, the Roericks first moved in with family, and then into a Federal Emergency Management Agency trailer. The emergency trailer park, known as “Femaville,” housed many people for nearly two years after the flood.
Dennis Roerick said the stress from the circumstances took a toll on his health, leaving him with anxiety, respiratory problems and other health concerns. He is still unable to work, because of his health, and is living on a fixed income.
No place to go
In July 2013, FEMA ceased ownership of the mobile home park, and residents were required to purchase their trailers or leave, said Zietz, who now manages the privately owned park.
Since their house wasn’t livable, and the housing market was tight, the Roericks purchased their FEMA trailer, said Dennis Roerick, adding that the couple wondered for a time if they would become homeless.
“There were no apartments to be found to live in. There were no places to go,” he said.
The Roericks continue living in the trailer they bought in 2013.
With affordable housing tough to find in Minot, several families have multiple generations living under one roof.
Triplett is now back in her own home, living with her mother, her daughter, her husband, her nephew, her 24-year-old son and his fiancée.
The house, which sustained flood damage, was rebuilt for Triplett, her daughter and her husband to live downstairs and her mother to live upstairs. There is a kitchen on each floor, two sets of bedrooms and bathrooms and a shared laundry room, she said.
Both her son and her nephew moved in because they were struggling to find affordable apartments.
“We’re hoping that as the rents come down, and they’re working, they can hopefully put away some money and find their own place,” said Triplett, who works as a waiting list manager at the housing authority.
But it’s convenient to all live together, she said, because it gives everyone a little more disposable income. Her family’s living situation is not unusual in Minot, she added.
“Honestly,” she said, “I don’t know how single-income households - where the breadwinner is not an oil field worker - I don’t know how they can make it.”
A changing city
Although Minot is on the edge of the Oil Patch, the city has seen immense growth due to the oil boom.
Bruce Carlson, a Minot Area Development Corporation board member and manager of Verendrye Electric Cooperative in nearby Velva said all sorts of industries, not just oil, are bringing more workers into Minot.
“Things have really changed,” Carlson said. For example, the Minot airport sees about 14 flights a day, he said. “Years ago, that was unheard of.”
Also, Minot Air Force Base recently announced it will be adding more than 300 personnel. On-base housing is at 90 percent occupancy, according to Lt. Col. Bryan Opperman.
And several oil companies, such as Hunt Oil Co. and Halliburton Co., have offices in Minot, Carlson said.
The national buzz about North Dakota jobs and economic prosperity has brought people to the state, particularly the western region, in droves.
But many of them come without knowing the full picture, said Austin, of the housing authority. They sometimes don’t have jobs lined up before moving, and they usually don’t know about the housing crunch, he said.
“They put everything in their vehicle and they come. They just show up here,” Austin said. “Some people walked away from what they had, wherever they came from, and just came here.
“There’s jobs here, that’s what they’re looking at.”
Prices on the rise
More jobs and more people created a high demand for housing, which was then exacerbated by the flood. That high demand, plus incomes inflated by the oil boom, is largely what boosted the cost of housing, Austin said.
According to housing authority data, the federal payment standard rate for rent on a one-bedroom apartment in Ward County jumped from $697 per month in June 2012 to $847 per month in October 2013. Those rates are reflective of the city’s rental market conditions, Austin said.
And some landlords charge more than that, said Triplett, of the housing authority.
But, as more apartments become available - 940 units built in 2013 alone, according to the city assessor’s office - the rental rate dropped to $804 per month in April 2014.
Some of the new apartments being built are affordable, not lavish and expensive, which helps decrease rent prices, Triplett said. There are still some developers building luxury apartments and some landlords who will overcharge, she said, but she knows there are some who are conscious of the need for affordability.
The pattern of prices is similar for home sales.
The median sale price for a house increased from $155,000 in 2010 to $239,000 in 2012, according to the Minot city assessor’s office. Sale prices then dropped slightly in 2013, with a median home sale of $232,000.
Saving the city
But as the oil boom increases needs in the community, it also provides opportunities.
In Austin’s opinion, the oil boom saved Minot after the flood.
The high demand from oil growth forced housing development - and, essentially, flood recovery - to happen faster, he said.
“Our strong economy, that’s what saved it, what saved the city,” Austin said. “It was two huge ramifications that impacted us back-to-back, but in essence too, it was our saving grace.”
Kevin and Kelsey Mehrer, both 26, recently bought their home in Minot, and the couple said they view the oil boom in their home state as a positive opportunity.
“Obviously people complain about some of the things that come with the growth, but I would much rather have the growth than the opposite,” said Kevin Mehrer, who is originally from Minot.
As a fifth-grade teacher, Kelsey Mehrer has seen enrollment growing in Minot’s school system, which she said shows that much of the city’s growth is there to stay.
It was challenging for the Mehrers to find a house in Minot amid the housing crunch, and they bought at the top of their desired price range, Kevin Mehrer said. But they are happy with their home, he said.
“If you’re determined and if you want to live in Minot, then absolutely you’re going to find some place,” he said.