April 21, 2024


This story was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project.

The sign welcoming people to Williston, North Dakota has an inscription at the bottom: “Boomtown, USA.” That’s one way to characterize the now-infamous oil boom that doubled the city’s population between 2010 and 2020, with an influx of workers eager to get to the oil fields. All those newcomers led to another boom: an increase in evictions.

New research of Princeton University shed light on the connection between fracking and evictions, finding that in Williams County, the surrounding area of ​​Williston, eviction applications rose from 0.002 percent in 2010 to more than 7 percent by 2019. grew from 300,000 barrels of oil per month to 7.5 million barrels per month.

Williston is not alone. Other research supports the link between fracking and layoffs, as the industry often moves an influx of new, temporary residents to places like Midland, Texas or Lycoming County, Pennsylvania. That’s because fracking often leads to an abundance of high-paying jobs. Meanwhile, longtime residents don’t always have access to the wealth these areas produce and are left to bear the consequences long after the boom is over.

“Tenants are almost always going to lose out in this equation,” said Carl Gershenson, lead author and director of Expansion laboratory at Princeton University.

Existing residents can often be displaced because landlords can charge short-term renters exorbitant rates instead of the relatively affordable prices long-term renters pay for the same property, according to Gershenson.

“An experienced landlord realizes that many of these people are coming for the season,” Gershenson said. “So it’s very common to say, switch a place that was on an annual lease to monthly leases. And now you rent out rooms instead of an entire house. In some cases, you can fit 10 or 12 people, you know, in a house that’s rented out to one family.”

He also notes that evictions not only displace residents, but can be a destabilizing force for the people who experienced them.

“Evictions are not just the result of poverty, but are really one of the main causes of poverty,” Gershenson said.

People who have experienced evictions often do too mental and physical health issues more than their peers who have never been evicted.

Another hurdle to overcome is that smaller municipalities are often not equipped to handle the influx, or the developers following rapid population increases. Things like long-term planning therefore fall away as cities and towns try to cope with the immediate increased needs for municipal services.

“It’s an investment in terms of not just hard infrastructure, like pipes, and electrical and roads, but also human infrastructure, things like law enforcement, things like emergency services, things like social services,” said William Caraher, associate professor of history and American Indian Studies at the University of North Dakota.

Caraher also noted that initially the large presence of man campsor temporary housing for oilfield workers, posed a problem for community members who did not understand the negative stigma associated with the drug use and other issues which arrived with the camps. In response, many cities and towns in this area allowed more development to take place so that workers could live in some form of permanent housing, but now those places are left with hastily built and overpriced housing.

However, there are ways to combat displacement, and one solution Caraher points to is increased protections for tenants, which could help keep eviction rates down.

Caraher noted that despite the fact that people in the community did try to secure more housing and tenant rights, the pace of the boom was ultimately too much to accommodate lower-income, longer-term residents.

Another option Gershenson points to is something called a community benefits agreementin which residents can partner with companies to determine how any economic development can help longtime residents along with any new employees drawn to the area for work.

“I think it’s fair that the community captures some of those profits to invest in affordable housing,” he said.

There must be better options, says Caraher, to accommodate both workers and communities in boomtowns.

Housing in the U.S. falls between two extremes, either short-term hotels or forever homes, he said. “This kind of gray area in between is never well established about how it should function,”






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