WILLISTON, N.D. – It’s only been one month since I moved to Williston, and I’ve already had a mini Oil Patch experience.
I’ve been homeless.
I’ve signed a lease for an apartment that rents for $2,500 a month.
I’ve spent the night in the cab of a U-Haul parked outside of the Stanley Cenex.
Let me back up.
I left The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead in mid-February for a new job as a Forum Communications Co. reporter stationed in oil country. I saw this position as an exciting opportunity to cover the state’s big story.
But, as is the case for many people who move to the Oil Patch, my job started before housing was available.
So I asked a former Forum sports writer who now lives in Williston if I could stay with him and his family. “Three nights, tops,” I said. Under normal circumstances, I would have felt like this was asking too much of a former co-worker.
But living in a town where hotels are booked up for months is not living under normal circumstances.
They generously agreed and anticipated better than I did that my three-night stay would likely be extended.
They knew firsthand how difficult housing is to find. They’d spent many months living in another family’s basement and then a tiny trailer before finally getting a house in Williston.
They accommodated me for about a week until I was able to get into my apartment building.
Even if it was slightly delayed, I was lucky to have an apartment at all.
My apartment hunt began before I even applied for this job. I knew I wanted the job but not if it meant opening up the company’s first Walmart parking lot bureau.
I found a list of property rental companies in Williston and called each one. Some people almost laughed at me. Some just went to messages indicating they didn’t even have room on a waiting list.
Finally I found a Fargo-Moorhead company that planned to open new buildings in Williston about the same time the job would start. But rent for a two-bedroom was $2,500.
Yes, you heard me right: $2,500. A month.
Four times what I paid for a similar two-bedroom in Fargo.
Fortunately, I am provided a housing allowance that subsidizes my rent. I couldn’t be here without it.
After two weeks in Williston, I returned to Fargo to pack up our apartment and move here with my husband and our cat.
Somehow during the mildest winter I can remember, we managed to move during a snowstorm.
The weather got progressively worse as we got north of Bismarck. It deteriorated to white-out conditions just west of Minot.
With my husband driving the U-Haul and me following in his Grand Am, I gave up trying to stay in the correct lane. I just focused on staying on the road at all.
Finally I called my husband and suggested we pull off at the Cenex in Stanley, a truck stop that’s busy 24 hours a day. We probably could have made it the last 70 miles but I didn’t want to try.
We spent the night bundled up in the cab of the U-Haul, turning on the engine every so often to warm up. We could have gone inside the Cenex, but we had to keep the cat warm. Luckily, the Cenex staff didn’t say anything about us being in their 15-minute parking for 10 hours.
As I tried to keep my feet warm in the cab of that U-Haul, I couldn’t help but think about all the families who do that nightly.
I know that I am spoiled with my apartment and my housing allowance. But I’m at least getting a taste of what it’s like to live in the Oil Patch.
Williston officials I’ve met often say that you can’t really understand what life is like here until you visit.
You can follow my reporting and my personal experiences through this blog, oilpatchdispatch.areavoices.com. Forum Communications also has a new website, thepatchtoday.com, which compiles stories about the oil boom and western North Dakota.
I welcome your feedback and suggestions. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and (701) 580-6890.