ELK CITY — No one seems to know just how many people live in Elk City.
The official 2010 census recorded a population of 12,000, but the oil boom in western Oklahoma has attracted thousands more to the area.
Oil companies have drilled wells throughout Western Oklahoma and the Texas Panhandle, flooding the area with righands, truck drivers, service crews and their families.
The rapid population growth quickly filled the available housing, driving up rent and property values.
“The RV parks are full,” Elk City Economic Development Director Shane Frye said. “The temporary housing outside the city is full. We have trailer parks popping up all over.”
So many people have moved to the area that the city's hotels are almost always full, often with oil-field workers and their families.
The school district sends buses to the hotels to pick up the many students who live in the hotels with their families, officials said.
Crowds of newcomers hoping for a piece of the oil patch prosperity are nothing new for Elk City.
The community experienced similar booms in the 1950s and in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Twenty years ago, city parks were transformed into tent cities, and storm cellars rented for as much as $500 a month.
Today, however, city ordinances ban tent cities.
“Then, they all wanted to live in the city limits because they couldn't get phone service or cable service further out,” businessman Basil Weatherly said. “This time around, we have cellphones and small satellite dishes, so they can go anywhere.”
The city recently completed a study that showed a need for 105 homes for purchase and 45 rental properties per year for the next five years.
Local developers are building houses throughout the city, but they cannot keep up with demand, Frye said.
So the city turned to St. Louis-area-based USA Wealth Partners. The developer has bought a neighborhood that was planned in the early 1980s but never completed. Roads and utility lines were installed on the more than 100-lot division, but fewer than 10 homes were finished.
“We feel very strongly that the demand is there, and we are moving forward,” said Carolyn Warenberg, USA Wealth Partners' senior managing partner.
The Missouri group plans to break ground in September and complete the development within two years.
The homes will be 1,300 to 1,900 square feet with two- and three-car garages and are expected to sell for $130,000 to $190,000, Warenberg said.
The new housing is desperately needed, said Marjorie Anderson, owner of Elk City-based Homestead Title & Closing.
“It would increase everything that goes on here. It would increase taxes and the way we live,” she said.
Besides housing, Elk City also is suffering a labor shortage. So many people are opting to work in the high-paying oil-field jobs that local retailers and other industries cannot keep up.
“We can't compete with the oil-field wages, and they're constantly stealing our people,” Elk City Police Chief Eddie Holland said. “It costs me a lot of money to train someone new and lose him within the first two years.”
More than 3,250 jobs have been created in the area over the past seven years, and local businesses have said they would hire 400 to 500 more people if housing were available, Frye said.
“We have a waiting room full of companies that are growing and looking for employees and faculties to expand,” he said.
“It is a real challenge, but it is a challenge that most communities would give their eye teeth to have.”