A study that shows the population of key cities in the Bakken more than doubling in 25 years may be conservative, according to city officials.
The housing study completed for the North Dakota Commerce Department and released in December showed population in northwestern North Dakota could increase dramatically through 2025 before dropping slightly.
The study projected another 10,957 residents in the communities of Williston, New Town, Parshall, Watford City, Stanley and Tioga. The largest share, 7,365 residents, is forecast for Williston through 2025. Accommodating those residents would require another 5,477 permanent and temporary housing units.
Parshall Mayor Richard Bolkan said the projected 1,812 population peak for his city seems low, although he agreed with the study that access to housing is going to be a factor in how much growth occurs. Parshall could see more than 3,000 residents if it had the housing, he said.
"A lot of our growth depends on housing and if we can get the financing and investors it takes to come in and build housing," New Town Mayor Dan Uran said. "The city of New Town really can't afford to go build housing so it's going to take some investors."
That's where the study will come in handy, he said, especially if the Legislature promises infrastructure and housing assistance,
"If the state comes out with some of the things they talked about and we sit down and we can show we are going to have this type of growth, it might help to bring investors in," Uran said.
The document is a useful tool for developers, said Gene Veeder, economic development director in McKenzie County. There is a lot of interest from out-of-state developers who aren't familiar with small towns, and the study gives them a better sense of how much they should build, he said.
"Our real challenge is not so much attracting the people to build houses but getting our infrastructure built to receive them getting the water and sewer and curb and gutter out to them," Veeder said. "If we could do that, it looks like there would be people ready to build."
Balkan said the study will help portray the needs to the state Legislature, and it also will help Parshall in planning for its future.
"It kind of helps us with the what-ifs," he said.
Veeder noted that the study only looked at oil drilling and not employment projections related to developments like a gas plant recently proposed for Watford City. It also didn't consider growth from other sectors of the economy or the effect of rural growth around the city, which has been tremendous, he said. Still, the figures provide a starting point.
"It gives us a benchmark," he said. "Projections are changing on a daily basis. What we wanted to do is get some handle on what's temporary and what's permanent."
The housing report stated that many communities may be unable to accommodate all the new employees, forcing these people to look elsewhere. According to the study, Williston is best positioned to accommodate population growth. Williston may not only take the overflow from cities that can't handle the growth but it could see even additional population from development occurring in eastern Montana, which wasn't part of the housing study.
In addition to housing shortages, affordability is an issue. The study called for subsidized housing because people whose incomes don't approach the medians are under extreme pressure.
The study prepared by Ondracek, Witwer, & Bertsch of Minot found the city populations becoming more youthful on average, at least initially, and predicted more modest increases in median incomes after the surges that occurred between 2000 and 2010.
The report predicts the poverty rate to drop to 7.2 percent by 2030 due to more wealth in the communities, although the actual numbers of people living in poverty will be up slightly. Poverty rates ranged from 14 to 31 percent in the region during 2000.
The report indicated that even with median household incomes that have risen in recent years, families in Parshall and New Town still would have to spend more than 30 percent of income on housing to afford the rents that would have to be charged to pay back construction costs on an apartment building over 20 years. Another of New Town's challenges is lack of developable land, according to the report.
Study preparers recommended that cities exercise more control over their extra-territorial zones and grow through annexations. They recommended more temporary or semi-permanent housing, such as single-story suites that could later be combined into apartments that eventually might be sold as condos.