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Lauren Donovan, Bismarck Tribune, Published February 17 2013

ND aims to get workers out of mom’s basement

WATFORD CITY, N.D. – Ben DeHaven didn’t ever plan to bring his bride back home to live with him in his parents’ basement.

That’s kind of a sad-sack scenario for guys on the way down in life, not on the way up.

But considering the people living in fifth-wheel campers or worse in this jam-packed, pricey Oil Patch community, Mom and Dad’s basement actually looked pretty good.

Ben DeHaven, 31, was hired to teach sixth-grade classes and Michelle DeHaven, 25, was hired to teach at a private pre- and after-school program starting in the fall of 2011.

They suspect that basement was in the back of the school’s mind as it operated in crisis mode. Administrators are hiring new staff a dozen at a time to keep up with enrollment, knowing the lack of affordable housing is a shark under the water.

The DeHavens made the best of it, taking turns in the kitchen, and everything went well enough until another brother and his two daughters moved home in hopes of making a better living at construction than he’d been able to in Minneapolis.

“I felt I was taking space my brother and his kids desperately needed,” Ben DeHaven said.

The couple figured they could handle the basement for a year, but if nothing else came along, they’d move on from Watford City.

In August, the school came up with eight trailers and parked them next to ongoing construction at the elementary school. It’s a bit awkward because teachers have to drive through the football field to get there and Michelle DeHaven said during the season, they either had to get home before a game or wait until it was over.

Still, the 14-by-64-foot trailers are liveable, with three tiny bedrooms and a small kitchen-living area decorated with their own things.

Ben DeHaven said, “My brother poked his head in and said, ‘Nice!’ but he’s still in the basement.”

The DeHavens, other new teachers and essential personnel are about to be rescued by a community nonprofit that’s tackling a disconnect between non-Oil Patch salaries and the cost of housing for essential personnel.

With the help of developers, the nonprofit designed Wolf Run Village, an $8 million project that will include 42 townhome living units and a 15,000-square-foot day care for up to 150 to 200 children. It will be built this spring on a piece of land west of the school.

Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford, a nonprofit board member, said the board’s been working hard to raise $3 million to leverage against a $5 million loan so that it can effectively buy down rent and keep it in the $700 to $850 range for teachers, city and county employees and emergency responders.

“We’ve got teachers living in a teacher man camp, including the new principal. The superintendent’s got to hire 12 more, and he’s scared. We’ve got all young cops and there’s no apartments – $2,400 in rent is a serious problem,” Sanford said.

Last week, four Oil Patch companies showed up with some substantial cash to put toward the Wolf Run Village day care. They brought those big cardboard checks inked in with numbers like $100,000 and $50,000, adding up to $300,000.

Drawings of the village were tacked on a conference room wall and looking it over, nonprofit board member Gene Veeder said, “This is a community-maker. I can see the little kids running around there.”

Travis Foreman, head of operations for MBI oil field service, represented one of the checks.

“We want to help the community provide a place for families,” Foreman said.

Others with checks were Whiting Petroleum, QEP Resources and Power Fuels.

Sanford said day care is in crisis mode, too.

“This will triple the amount of day care available in town,” he said.

He said the town’s Roughrider Fund, financed by a 1 cent sales tax – which in the pre-boom days brought in $10,000 a month and now earns $100,000 a month – will contribute $1 million, as will state funds, including a law enforcement pilot program that requires a maximum of $830 monthly rent and eight units.

After two years of planning, Wolf Run Village is finally going to happen.

“Now we’re worried it might not be big enough,” Sanford said.

The DeHavens can hardly wait to make the move.

They couldn’t see a way out of the trailer otherwise.

They expect to pay more rent than they pay for the trailer, but it will still be a boomtown bargain.

“Without this, we’d be dead in the water,” Ben DeHaven said.