By Katharine Grandstand / Dickinson Press
DICKINSON, N.D. – The rest of the country is finding out what western North Dakotans have known for some time.
It’s expensive to live here.
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 apartment.
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 in the top 10. The other three were Key West, Fla., (No. 5), the Boston metropolitan area (No. 6) and the New York metropolitan area (No. 7).
Rent boils down to the basic principles of supply and demand in the Bakken, said Dickinson Mayor Dennis Johnson.
“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.
High rents in Williston prompted a group called People in Williston Have Had Enough to organize protests and circulate a petition urging city leaders to take action against high rent prices.
Phyllis Larson of Williston had to come out of retirement and work two days a week to afford her two-bedroom apartment, where rent has increased from $550 about 10 years ago to just under $1,300.
She wants to stay in her hometown, but has seen others forced to leave.
“We’ve got to do something because it’s driving people out of here,” Larson said in a Forum News Service interview in November.
Though developers are constantly building housing in the Oil Patch hub cities, their costs – from land to construction – are also more in the Bakken.
Dickinson’s Sierra Ridge Apartment Homes, which moved in its first residents in December, has many oilfield and corporate housing clientele, said rental agent Reanne Prage. All of Sierra Ridge’s one-bedroom apartments are rented, with more that could be ready in April.
The two- and three-bedroom units in what will be a 12-building complex 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 new apartment complexes in the city. A two-bedroom unit toured Monday rents for about $2,200 a month. It includes amenities such as access to a fitness center, an onsite recycling center and in-unit washers and dryers, Prage said. Sierra Ridge also does a background check on all of its residents, which adds an extra level of security.
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 in major metropolitan areas. Rents in the suburbs of New York and Boston and other cities 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.”
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
Other notable North Dakota: Minot ($1,237), Bismarck ($686), Fargo ($671) and Grand Forks ($564).