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BOOMTOWN: Housing prices pose problems for new families

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Posted: Sunday, March 11, 2012 12:00 am

Standing in a dirt lot off of the beaten road in West Odessa, Amy Funnell could hardly believe her family of four had nowhere else to live but in a small, used camper.

“(The kids) are cramped,” Funnell said. “They don’t have their own room.”

Less than a year ago, Funnell said, her family was living in a nice home in Colorado and her children, Alex, 10, and Alyssa, 8, each had their own room.  In September the Funnells, like so many other families, moved to the Permian Basin for work in the oilfields. She said the family has always followed jobs across the country for the oil industry and said that life with a roughneck is not easy.

“You’ve got to be a strong woman to be a roughneck’s wife,” Funnell said.

Funnell said her husband, Mike, was able to find work when they moved to Odessa, but a place to live was another story.

 “We didn’t realize the housing (market) was so bad,” Funnell said.

Funnell said they had nowhere to live for the first two months when they moved to Odessa. The family couldn’t afford the very few openings for places to live and could not find anything even comparable to their Colorado home. She said the first two months were the worst because the family was bouncing around from various motels, while the children were still attending school in the Ector County Independent School District.

“Lots of the motels are packed with families in the same boat,” Funnell said.

Even when they were able to find a motel, the price was starting to wear on the family’s budget.

“Even with the money he’s making, the motels were killing us,” Funnell said.

Scott Randolph, lead social worker for ECISD's community outreach center, said the number of homeless students in ECISD has grown in the last year by 13 percent, from 624 to 703 students. He said the district typically has about 500 students each year identified as homeless.

“I think it (the growth) is substantial,” Randolph said.

Federal law defines homeless students as those who are living with family or friends due to economic reasons as well as those living in shelters, cars or hotels.

Randolph said about 80 percent of the identified homeless families are classified as such because they are living with friends or family in the same house due to financial reasons. He said even though the child’s family may find work and become more stable, the district still provides services and free lunch for students while their family gets back on track.

“Once (the student is) identified as homeless, they stay on the list for the whole year,” Randolph said.

Randolph said he thinks at least 40 of the homeless families identified as homeless have moved to Odessa because they are looking for work in the oil industry. He said some of the families have come looking for work as far as Florida, Utah, Colorado and New Mexico, with only the clothes on their backs. He said the limited housing options have been a problem for many families.

“It’d be nice if there was more affordable housing,” Randolph said. “I think that’s one of the biggest problems.”

Alex Singh, owner of La Quinta and two Comfort Inn hotels in Odessa, said the hotels have been packed since mid-2011. He said his hotels are at capacity on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, mostly by companies who fly people in during the week. He said apartments are difficult to find and it has not been uncommon for a guest to stay at his hotels for four to six months at a time.

“Our business follows the oil industry,” Singh said.

Funnell said after weeks of searching she found an ad in the paper to rent a used camper. She said they pay $250 per month for the camper and its water. Even though it is a more stable environment for her children, the space is small and the camper is older.

“You can’t really pick. It’s awful,” Funnell said.

Funnell said the good thing about the camper is the family has some dirt land around the space for the children to be able to play and ride their bikes outside. She said she knows other families are in the same situation. The first week the family moved to the space she said about 100 people stopped by wanting to the rent the camper after they too had seen the ad in the paper.

“It’s been rough, it’s been really rough,” Funnell said.

Funnell, who does not work, said she has been asking around and even volunteers at her children’s school with hope of meeting someone who knows about a place for her family to stay. She said the family has been able to save up money for their future home, and just hope they will be able to find something before long.

“I’m tired of not being settled and not being where we want to be,” Funnell said. “It’s really unsettling.”

Alex Funnell, a fifth-grader at Gonzales Elementary, said he doesn’t mind the camper or living in Odessa.

“I like that it’s nice and warm and you can wear a T-shirt here,” Alex said.

The camper, however, is not his favorite part of living in Odessa. He said he sleeps on the table which turns into a bed and his sister sleeps nearby on a pull out couch. He said in Colorado he had his own room.

“It’s too small,” Alex said. “The motels were bigger.”

Alysa Funnell, a third-grader at Gonzales Elementary, agreed.

“I like the motel better because everything’s not cluttered,” Alysa said.

Still, cluttered and tight space did little to affect the happy girl who played outside with a friend she made who lives down the road and her dog.

“It’s warm and there’s lots of stuff to do here,” Alysa said.

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