‘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.”