What would Glendive look like if there were no convenience store clerks? No waitress? No fry cooks? No bartenders? No receptionists at local small businesses? All generally pay minimum wage to honest, hard working employees who generally do not get medicaid, food stamps, or other public benefits either because they can not or because they choose to make it on their own. Until recently it quite possible to live comfortably in Glendive on minimum wage with many rents averaging between $200 and $350 per month, well within the 30% ceiling for housing expenses recommended by financial experts. Those rental rates, though, are rapidly changing.
Last Thursday a group of business leaders and a few landlords gathered at Hungry Joe Hall in Glendive to discuss housing challenges. The conversations revolved around the need for housing stock both to accommodate workforce needs as well as long term housing, and rental rates.
Most of the leaders present were employers. They described an inability to hire new or replacement workers for long-standing Glendive businesses and agencies because potential employees are unable to find housing and when they are able to find housing the rents have skyrocketed and they are not affordable even on modest salaries well above minimum wage. One long-time Glendive landlord was at the meeting. He has not significantly raised his rents and acknowledged that while he needs to make a living he also sees his properties as a community benefit to supply livable and affordable housing stock. A survey over a one month period of rents both in local newspapers and online, where the majority of transplants begin housing searches, found that most long-time local landlords are still offering traditional apartments in the $350-$500 range. However, absentee and more recently transplanted landlords have higher rental averages. One new landlord has purchased eight properties in Glendive and West Glendive, Those rates range from $380 per month for one-half of a single wide trailer modeled into a studio to $350 per week or about $1400 per month for a single-wide trailer. Other similar properties are renting out at $325 per week. Several rooms in homes were renting out for $875 per month and houses advertised online and verified are running between $1200 to $1500 per month. Two different basement apartments recently created were each renting for $1250 per month. Affordable for oil workers, but more than the monthly take home pay for many workers. Additionally, with the exception of whole houses, most lease agreement are requiring additional dollars for additional people, even if two people are married to each other. Also online, are individuals advertising that they are looking for housing and they are offering prices traditionally higher than Glendive is used to – between $1 per square foot per month to $1500 per month.
There are no rental stock occupancy rate surveys available for Dawson County, however, because of the recently instituted tax on local hotels it is known that most hotels are filled to capacity most nights. One hotel owner offered to take his hotel out of the hotel business and rent to companies looking for long-term family housing for employees. However, to make the conversion would take funding not readily available in this market. Some participants noted that because local banks were stung 20 years ago during the last boom they are shy about funding projects now.
Another barrier to housing in Glendive identified by the business leaders is zoning and an understanding of the implications of zoning. One explained a nightmare they experienced while building new housing units in Williston because different city and county agencies were not on the same page.
Commissioner Jim Skillstead relayed concerns older people in the community are experiencing because they are on fixed incomes and some housing stock traditionally reserved for those on fixed incomes is for sale.
After re-hashing the problems, the group developed a few ideas to explore to alleviate the housing issue.
One is to contact Lutheran Social Services. That agency has built affordable housing in Bozeman, Montana and Beach, North Dakota. Anther suggestion was to see the influx of people as an opportunity to bring in and welcome people who will spend money in local businesses. One realtor noted “They are here already. They are in their cars, in trailers, in the motels, they are in friends basements. Just because there isn’t a building with a bunch of rooms for them to sleep in doesn’t mean we don’t have them here.”
Everyone in the room seemed to have consensus that the community of Glendive has not yet been hit with the full impact of the energy rush. Wade Humphries, the city/county planner said one issue that has to be addressed is impact fees for new development. Glendive is one of the few communities that does not charge impact fees or connection fees for water/sewer hookups and other amenities. His intention in his position, he said is to put impact fees in and “control this growth in a slow intentional manner.” Not everyone was in agreement with that method. At least one participant advocated for an immediate change and said “If the choice is not to do it ( institute impact or connection fees) would that speed up the process of increasing housing stock?”
The leaders, who were brought together by the Dawson County Economic Development Council, intend to meet again within the next few weeks. At their next meeting they intend to include oil and oilfield service companies requiring multiple housing placements and hope additional landlords will engage as well.
Those wishing to participate can contact Amy Deines at the Dawson County Economic Development Council at 406-377-7792 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.