Families driven away by oil boom

Fed up residents say Midland-Odessa leaders have struggled to provide community essentials amid the Permian Basin’s flourishing economy and it is forcing some to reconsider their place of residence.

Those on the tipping point include locals like Brandon Terry who was raised in Odessa and now lives in Midland. He said the game of catch-up needed for the two cities encompasses infrastructure, housing and more, but not everyone has the patience to wait and see if needs can eventually be met for a population on the rise.

Ector County and Midland County were both identified in a Texas Demographic Center report as two of the top 10 counties in the state that will have the fastest population growth rates from 2010 to 2050. In the next 30 years, the combined population of the counties is projected to reach more than 1 million people compared to about 274,000 people in 2010, TDC data states.

Midland Mayor Jerry Morales told an audience Thursday during a 2020 census conference that both cities were stretching funds thin in order to even get roads built.

“Both cities are cities of orange cones now,” Morales said. “All we’re doing is building roads in the city and county and those are great things, but we need more money to keep up with the infrastructure.”

Terry said families in the area are often forced to pick up those costs to expand and repair damage to infrastructure that was not designed to sustain the current traffic levels or the additional weight of commercial vehicles on roadways.

“If we can’t maintain what we have now, we can’t build for that growth,” he said.

Ector County residents passed a proposition in November to create a sales tax within a newly established assistance district, which provides a way to capture funds from the transient workers that do not own property but contribute to the deterioration of infrastructure.

Terry said the fabric of the community has frayed and one of the biggest drivers is the transient workforce that does not have a vested interest in the Permian Basin outside of a paycheck.

“The cities need to step back and really look at what we’re spending our tax dollars on and where the focus needs to be,” he said. “We can have all of this growth and we can have all of this property and sales tax coming in, but if we can’t support our citizens then we’ll never build a community.”

He said affordable housing is one of Midland-Odessa’s greatest challenges, especially for the retention of law enforcement officers and teachers.

Amy Jones, an employee for an Odessa grocer, also said high cost of living weighs heavy on households like hers. She has lived in Ector County for 30 years and now pays about $1,200 a month for a mobile home in Gardendale.

“Being a single mom,” Jones said, “it impacts me really bad.”

Jones said she would not rule out moving to Lubbock to have access to lower rent prices.

She said renters are at the mercy of landlords who can increase rent prices up to $500 from her experience with little notice.

The Regency Square Apartments located on 42nd Street had 750-square-foot apartments starting at $1,100, one of their lowest price points, as of Tuesday and that did not include the initial application fee, administration fee or deposit.

 “Tell me how a person averaging $12 an hour can afford to pay like $1,200 a month for a one-bedroom apartment,” Jones said. “You’ll be working to pay your rent and not eating, that’s what it’s coming down to and that’s why a lot of people are moving out too.”

Filomina Gonzalez, the Regency Square Apartments property manager, said she does not encounter many individuals seeking an apartment on their own. She said seeing two or three adults split the cost of a unit was more common.

Gonzalez estimated that more than half of her units were occupied by people working in the oilfield.

Terry said the young adults in his family will not be establishing roots in Midland or Odessa.

“They’re just now getting out of college and even though the work is here, the cost of living is not affordable for a young adult who is just starting their career,” Terry said.

He said he too has discussed moving away from the area with his family to enjoy a greater quality of life.

“I would have to go to one of those cities that have a manufacturing base if I was to move out of the area to Dallas-Fort Worth, Denver, Tulsa or Houston,” Terry said. “The problem is I don’t want to be in those places.”

He said although he wants to remain in Midland-Odessa, the community he knew during the oil booms of the 80s and 90s has slowly dwindled away. He said the current state of the area could lead his family to relocate to a place with fewer growing pains.