ODC hears housing incentive plans

A plan for housing incentives to help with the ongoing housing shortage was presented to the Odessa Development Corporation during its Thursday meeting by the compliance committee, sparking some heated discussion.

Chris Cole, chairman of the compliance committee, presented to them the guideline, which highlights some areas in the Odessa, primarily on the south side in District 1, where infill housing could be developed, and financial incentives could be provided to builders.

“If you build within those areas, like the south side, you will receive an additional incentive above the matrix guide based upon the appraised values of the homes,” Cole told the board. “This is our attempt to make as level of a playing field as we possibly can to incentivize builders to start building homes in a certain range that we think will meet the needs of the city.”

These incentives would be given through the $5 million set aside by ODC to be used for developing workforce housing. Cole added that every request by a builder trying to receive these funds would still have to go through the standard process of approval by the compliance committee, ODC and the city council, but said he wanted to develop a simpler process so every builder doesn’t have to do that.

Mayor David Turner, who sits on the ODC board as a non-voting member, said he thought it was a good idea and thanked Cole for his work.

ODC Board Member Gene Collins expressed some concern due to the ODC not having developed any policy regarding housing.

“According to our bylaws it’s the responsibility of ODC to develop policy,” Collins said. “I think what you have done, your work is excellent toward us moving forward. It’s still up to ODC to set the policy, so we’ll be working on that.”

Cole said the plan could still be adjusted by ODC, or by the city council, but that they felt very good about the document.

Collins said he wanted to meet with city council before moving forward, and said there were other projects that could be looked at using the housing funds, such as repairing existing housing. He also brought up the potential of creating a land bank, where the city acquires properties where the owner is not paying taxes but they don’t know where the owner is.

“We could accumulate those and give them back and all of a sudden they are producing taxes for the area,” Collins said.

Turner said he was unsure if the funds they have set aside could be used for home repairs, and noted that time was of the essence to build workforce housing, due to shortages at the city, the county and the school district.

“If we don’t have places for them to live, it hurts our kids, and it hurts the entire economy, and time is of the essence,” Turner said.

Cole told Collins he brought up great points, but said they need to get something started and this is what that plan is for. He said the more discussion they have, the further they will get behind.

“At some point we gotta use some common sense and some let’s-go-get-it-done and we’ll figure it out here a bit later on,” Cole said. “This is not rocket science. It’s not a big deal. We just need to start people putting nails in some roofs so we can get people moving.”

Cole said they don’t have enough policemen, firemen, or teachers, and said he as a businessman was asking himself how much longer he wanted to live here.

“I’m not disagreeing with legalities, policies, what I’m saying is there’s a time and place for everything and right now is not the time and place when we need to get started,” Cole said.

“Nice speech, but I disagree with you,” ODC Board Member Ted Tuminowski told Cole.

Tuminowski said they can’t just throw taxpayer money at a problem, and called it a typical government solution. The two talked over each other for a moment before ODC Chairwoman Betsy Triplett-Hurt banged her gavel a few times to silence them. She then asked Interim City Attorney Gary Landers what they needed to do next with the plan they had.

“What we’re trying to do today is focus on that portion of the plan which is what we can pay for out of the developer money funneled thru ODC,” Landers said. “I agree we can’t do everything with that money, but we can do something with that money. “

Turner told ODC they would bring the plan back up for a joint discussion between the city council and ODC in two weeks, but said City Secretary Norma Grimaldo was finding out everyone’s availability and no concrete time or day has been scheduled yet.