Oil and Blood: Census Says Energy Boomtowns Are the Fastest-Growing Metro Areas

The greater Houston area saw the largest absolute gains, but smaller Bakken boomtowns saw some of the greatest proportional gains.

An oil rig in Williston, a North Dakota boomtown with the highest rents in the nation. Credit: AP Photo/Gregory Bull

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The interior of the country is booming with oil and natural gas, and so it goes with population. According to data released today by the Census Bureau, six of the nation’s top 10 fastest-growing metropolitan areas are in or near the Great Plains. This includes oil towns like Odessa and Midland in Texas, as well as regional centers like Bismarck and Fargo in North Dakota.

The two fastest-growing micropolitan areas — defined by the Census Bureau as having a population between 10,000 and 49,999 — are Williston and Dickinson, in North Dakota, both of which sit atop the Bakken formation of oil-soaked shale and dolomite.

Along with its growth, Williston has felt a massive housing crunch. Its rents are the highest in the nation, and to meet demand nearly 6,000 units — a number that equals around a third of the town’s population — completed the entitlement process in 2012. The vast majority of these were in multifamily properties.

The energy boom has also brought high-profile real estate investors, like Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ Related, to out-of-the-way cities like Midland, Odessa and the tiny boomtowns scattered across North Dakota’s Bakken region.

Houston, the nation’s energy capital, saw the largest absolute population gains. Both the metropolitan area and Harris County were the top gainers in their class, respectively adding 138,000 and 83,000 residents last year and growing their populations by about 2 percent.

After Houston came the greater New York area, which posted a gain of 112,000. The tepid growth in New York City itself between 2000 and 2010 was a subject of much controversy, with city demographers saying that the Census undercounted, especially among the immigrant population. But the city has done quite well since 2010, growing by 2.8 percent in the last three years and adding 61,000 residents, pushing it past 8.4 million in total.

Carl Weisbrod, New York’s newly installed chief city planner, used the numbers as a chance to tout Mayor Bill de Blasio’s affordable housing effort, telling the New York Times, “These population increases underscore the need to spur creation of housing for all New Yorkers, something which we are focusing on as part of the mayor’s mandate to provide 200,000 affordable apartments over the next 10 years.”

If anything, though, they highlight how inadequate that affordable housing target will be. That 200,000 number includes below-market units that are both “created and preserved,” with the mayor only pledging to add 90,000 new subsidized units to the city’s building stock over 10 years. Those 9,000 units will be stretched very thin over an annual influx of 61,000, as will the 17,000 total units built on average each year. (At least, each year between 2000 and 2010). The new administration has not yet released its housing plan — that’s coming on May 1 — but de Blasio has said that he wants to increase housing production of all types, including unsubsidized market-rate construction.

The Gulf Coast also did pretty well in the various rankings. Sumter County in Florida, St. Bernard Parish in Louisiana and Fort Bend County in Texas all made the list of fastest-growing counties, while Cape Coral-Fort Myers and The Villages in Florida and Daphne-Fairhope-Foley in Alabama were among the fastest-growing metro areas.

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Stephen J. Smith is a reporter based in New York. He has written about transportation, infrastructure and real estate for a variety of publications including New York Yimby, where he is currently an editor, Next City, City Lab and the New York Observer.

Tags: new york cityaffordable housingbig dataenergyhoustonbill de blasiodemographics

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