‘Anywhere but Minot’

In western North Dakota, the oil boom is making a lot of people rich. It’s also making it enticing to kick members of the military out of a place to live.

Minot has never been on the dance card of many people in the military. It’s a missile base on a flat piece of prairie with a wicked wind chill. But at least the people who served in the Air Force could find a place to live there. What with the expanding oil boom and this year’s Souris River flood, those days are over.

“It’s a war zone,” says Stacy Baldus, a native of Grand Meadow, Minnesota.

Next June, she and Lt. John Nordstrom will be married and be that much closer to putting Minot in the rear-view mirror. For now, however, they have no idea where they’re going to live, nor how they can afford the good times in North Dakota on military pay.

Single people in the Air Force are not allowed to live on base and have to fend for themselves in the real estate market. Lt. Nordstrom was renting a small house for about $1,000 a month when the flood hit.

“His landlord was going to rebuild, the rent would be the same, and we’d finish up his stint,” Ms. Baldus told me this afternoon. Then, with a FEMA loan to help rebuild, and the housing market tight, and an influx of oil patch workers, the owner decided he needed to make more money and raised the rent to nearly $2,000 a month. There’s a lot of that going on in North Dakota.

“He was trying to be as nice as he could ,” she says. “We didn’t need anything fantastic; it’s just a small house.”

It’s even worse to the west. In Williston, 125 miles away, a one-bedroom living area is going for $3,000 a month.

An Air Force lieutenant can’t afford that kind of money. With living on the base off-limits for single people, and a waiting list for those who are married, many airmen are essentially homeless, she says.

“Many of the apartments in Minot are owned by real estate companies outside of North Dakota, and they have found an easy way to boost profits by exploiting the very real housing shortage,” Lt. Nordstrom said in an e-mail this afternoon. “Many people on fixed incomes, such as retirees, teachers, and military personnel, cannot afford to stay in their place. The lack of any kind of protective legislation for these people is causing serious pain to those affected, and it finds its roots in the oil boom.”

Lt. Nordsrom has been “bouncing between friends.” for six months. “It’s definitely been tough on a number of different people, those who live on base and weren’t directly impacted by the flood, a lot of them have opened up homes to people,” Stacy Baldus says. “Initially, it’s an easy commitment to make, but it goes on.”

“We can’t sign up on the waiting list until two months before we’re married, and then the wait is about a year and a half,” Ms. Baldus said. “But we’re going to be out of here in a year and a half.”

It’s a crisis, she says, and one that’s going unnoticed in the boom times. “It’s added a lot of stress. Minot’s a little isolated. They just recently had a suicide on base, and this puts a lot of added strain. We get the national news, and we hear about all these wonderful opportunities in North Dakota, but not about the downside.”

  • JB

    I can understand the hesitation to construct large amounts of permanent housing given that everyone understands the population boom is temporary. I would think if any agency could provide temporary housing in a pinch it would be the military but apparently not.

    I had an idea a while back for commuting by air charter. Basically a charter service would charge people a monthly fee for daily trips to and back to the employment centers in ND. Flights would originate from areas with affordable housing but still close enough to make the flight times acceptable. What workers save in housing costs would go towards the charter service. I’m not sure of the operational or financial viability of the idea. We would need a pilot to look into that. If only there was one around here.

  • Jim Shapiro

    Perhaps the War, er, Defense Department might wanna consider re-evaluating resource allotment to provide housing for the troops.

    Good thing there are still more than a dozen bases in Germany, in case the Ruskies decide to invade western Europe.

    And good thing the Wall is still there. It’s not? 1989? Jeez…..

  • Bob Collins

    I understand, via an article in Military Times, that the Air Force is privatizing its on-base housing in Minot.

  • Jason Bachmeier

    Maybe now that NoDak is thriving on oil riches. We can consider closing down Air Force Bases that used to be considered key to Minot’s economy.

  • Ken Ewald

    North Dakota has a great opportunity with its resource driven economy. Minot AFB is part of what kept that part of the state afloat for many decades . Now with the boom, the favor should be returned to our young service members. The state and DoD should fund Cost of Living Allowances or additional Housing Allowances to compensate for the bubble the oil boom created.

    These allowances are commonly used outside the US but it certainly makes sense to use them here too.

  • http://srt v martinson

    I’ve lived here forever…The base is topnotch and there is excellent dorm housing for single airmen contrary to the remark that single airmen/women can’t live on base. They can choose to live in town. Minot civic leaders made huge mistakes in whooing the oil industry, but the flood tore the town apart and it will be a long recovery. Thousands are hurting here in Minot.

  • John Douglas

    This story must be in error. Single airman should be able to stay in barracks. Minot must be a God forsaken place! It was one of the worse places to be when I was in the Air Force…unless you are married. The only place worse was Tuly, Greenland or the Aluetian Islands in Alaska and they closed the later!

  • mike

    No it is not a mistake. An Airmen can stay in the dorms yet they have to be E-1 to E-3. Once we hit E-4 we are pushed off base. It’s even worse than before the oil boom. Before anytime the city knew we got a raise they would hike up our rent. I started paying $650 for a 2 bedroom apartment and I am now paying $905. I’m sure once the yearly lease is up my rent will be at least $1,000. People in this city don’t care about anything but making money. When the flood hit realtors bought up tons of flooded homes, offering most people 90% less than what they paid for the house or even what the land was worth. Then turning around a month later and selling the same flooded house with no work even done to it, for four times more than what they paid for it. I know how four different houses (that flooded) where the owners were told they wouldn’t get more than 10 grand for the property. One month later, after buying it for $10,000, they put it on the market for $40,000 without doing anything to the house. This place use to prey on the military (cops sitting outside the base writing tickets for 4 and 5 mph over the limit, rent based on what the average Airmen was making, cops arresting military members for one reason while letting civilians go for the same thing, and more), now it seems like they are trying to make more money from the oil workers because they get paid more than we do. Someone needs to just building a community outside the base, just for military. Oh, and that someone doesn’t need to be IMM or any other apartment service from Minot!