Faces of the Boom: Williston trailer park residents feeling pinched

Jerry and Noreen Sergent participate in a protest of high rental prices on Friday, May 9, 2014, in Williston, N.D., months after the lot rent in the trailer park where they live more than doubled. Amy Dalrymple/Forum News Service

WILLISTON, N.D. – Six months after the lot rent at their trailer park more than doubled, Jerry and Noreen Sergent say they’re surviving, but not living nicely.

“We can’t buy as much food. We have to be careful about the heat and lights,” said Noreen, 53. “It was kind of scary a couple of months.”

The Sergents have lived in Elm Estates in Williston for 27 years, where the lot rent increased from $350 to $750 a month last November after the trailer park was sold.

The couple say they’re better off than many of their elderly neighbors because Jerry, 56, has a good job working in the warehouse of Border States Electric. But Noreen has health issues and doesn’t work.

“We’re making decent money, but it’s not enough to pay that outrageous rent,” Noreen said.

The additional monthly expense means they cut back wherever they can. The couple recently traveled to eastern North Dakota to see their six grandkids in Wahpeton and took them to a hotel water park in Grand Forks to celebrate their granddaughter’s first birthday.

The three-day weekend required a lot of saving and planning.

“That was the big splurge,” Noreen said. “That’s all we’ll do for another year.”

The couple participated in a protest Friday against high rental prices in Williston. Residents of another Williston trailer park will see lot rent increase to $850 in June.

“It’s affecting a lot more people steadily,” said Jerry, holding a sign that read “Protect the unprotected.”

The Sergents and other residents of Elm Estates say they feel stuck because the park’s new landlords have a stipulation that if they sell their mobile home, it must be removed from the park. But the couple have been told their mobile home is too old to be moved into the county. And finding available land would be difficult.

Their one-year lease will be up in the fall, and the couple worry that the park’s owners will raise the rent again.

“If they do, my husband and I will be homeless,” said Noreen, adding that the stress is taking a toll on her health.

Their only other option would be to move in with their daughter in Wahpeton, but they don’t want to leave Williston.

“It’s home,” Noreen said. “You don’t like leaving your home.”

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