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News

City addresses housing shortage
Odessa
07/17/2018 04:00 PM
Odessa officials are exploring a city-funded study of housing needs in hopes of drawing builders who can provide homes for workers amid increasing scarcity and rising costs driven by the oil boom.

The Odessa Development Corporation, which oversees a sales tax fund intended for economic development, wants to fund the study. The Odessa City Council could ratify the board’s decision to seek proposals from housing market experts as soon as next week. ODC officials hope to approve funding a study next month, but costs are unclear, ahead of the proposals.

What is clear is the shortage of housing.

Apartment rents are surging. In Odessa, average monthly rent of a one-bedroom apartment has increased nearly 25 percent since July 2017, according to the data collected by the Odessa Chamber of Commerce for its annual apartment survey, completed this month.

Costs of buying homes are also increasing. The Odessa Board of Realtors reported 1.4 months of housing inventory in June, a measure of market that estimates how long it would take all the listed homes to sell. That’s a stark change from June 2017, when the market was already tight in Odessa with 4.2 months of inventory. A balanced housing market has about six months of inventory.

“Everybody is facing this, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a welder making $75,000 a year or a teacher, it’s the same story,” ODC President Betsy Triplett-Hurt said. “And that’s why I’m very comfortable requesting a survey to help save this problem.”

The ODC, which faces state restrictions on ways it can spend the tax fund, has historically avoided directly owning land or constructing buildings.

Triplett-Hurt said the housing shortage “is truly a detriment to economic development” because it makes it harder to bring in workers. That justifies using the economic development fund to address the problem, she said, adding that the city’s long-range plan also calls for addressing workforce housing.

“We are not building anything,” Triplett-Hurt said, even though officials might find eligible uses of public money to support residential developments for workers. “All we are asking for is that a professional organization is hired to do a study to tell us what needs to be done, how it needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and what is the best way to go about this.”

She said officials could shop the results to real estate developers and oil companies to try to spur them to invest in workforce housing. Plans call for the city-funded study to focus on Odessa, but officials say it could become part of a regional plan.

The ODC’s pursuit of a workforce housing assessment stemmed from a housing summit last month that included city officials, private developers, oil company representatives and employers ranging from nonprofits to private businesses and governmental bodies. The Odessa Chamber of Commerce organized the summit, and about 75 people attended, Chamber CEO Renee Earls said.

Earls described the city’s housing shortage as a “crisis,” citing accounts of struggles providing homes for people such as teachers and hospital workers. She said it’s important for the governmental officials to develop a plan as they seek help from the private sector.

“We are encouraging people from around the country to come here and work,” Earls said. “We need to make sure that they are able to afford a roof over their head.”
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