WILLISTON, N.D. – Citizens here pleaded with the Williston City Commission on Tuesday to address steep increases in rental prices, with some comparing the displacement of residents to a natural disaster.
City commissioners plan to ask the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office whether there’s anything the city can do to provide relief. Residents of two trailer parks and several apartment buildings in Williston recently learned of rent increases that in some cases more than doubled the cost.
The trailer parks are tied to the same owner, Renu Properties of Scottsdale, Ariz., and the apartment buildings were purchased by New York companies, said Barbara Vondell, a Williston resident who is working on affordable housing issues.
“It sounds kind of funny that they’re buying up all the properties and raising all the lot rent,” Vondell said.
Commissioner Tate Cymbaluk made the motion to ask the city’s attorney to seek an attorney general’s opinion about what the city can do legally to help residents.
“It’s causing undue hardship to the community,” Cymbaluk said.
Several residents said they may be forced to leave the area due to the rent, which will go from $300 to $850 for some trailer park residents starting June 1.
“It’s very devastating to us all that we’re kind of being forced out,” said Kristy McKechnie, crying as she spoke to commissioners.
Williston resident Lee Steen said he’s not personally affected by the high rent prices, but he’s tired of watching widows get “knocked out” by the increases.
“This is kind of a natural disaster,” Steen told commissioners. “I’m not saying we need FEMA trailers in here right away, but when you go to Bismarck, let them know it’s a natural disaster.”
Commissioner Brad Bekkedahl agreed that residents being forced to leave Williston due to high rents could be compared to being displaced by a flood.
“This is displacing people,” Bekkedahl said. “It’s a different way of displacement.”
In addition to asking the attorney general for assistance, commissioners said they plan to raise awareness of the issue at the state level and talk to federal representatives about adjusting income levels for federal programs.
Bekkedahl added that while it’s not enough, the city of Williston has committed $1.2 million in funding to projects for elderly housing or reduced rental housing and sold property for low-income housing.
“All of those have waiting lists of more than 50 people,” Vondell said.