The Odessa Development Corporation approved allocating $5 million to help fund a housing coalition to address the housing crisis Thursday after a heated discussion over concerns of what the coalition would be and how the money would be used.
Housing Odessa Workers, the proposed coalition, was an idea sparked following the presentation of the housing study last week on how the city could address the ongoing housing shortage. The resolution approved by ODC Thursday allocates $5 million in ODC funds to be put toward helping initially fund HOW and hire a professional to oversee the organization.
The ODC Compliance Committee already approved the resolution put forth before ODC Thursday, with ODC Compliance Committee Chair Chris Cole telling ODC they would be looking at similar projects in Austin and Perryton as a framework. But ODC Board Members Ted Tuminowski and Gene Collins had some questions regarding the proposed coalition.
Collins asked Cole which organizations made the submission of the project to ODC, as he said was the standard process, and Cole told him there was no specific organization, and that the committee itself made the recommendation.
“The committee made this recommendation without consulting the board?” Tuminowski asked Cole.
Cole said he didn’t have a perfect answer for the board, but that something needed to start happening. The committee had been working for months discussing what needed to happen, and talking to the City Manager, the city’s legal department, and ODC Chairwoman Betsy Triplett-Hurt, and said that was how the recommendation came to be.
“My initial question was what organization made the request?” Collins reiterated. “What organization came to the compliance committee and said ‘we want to participate?’”
“I think this is a little different,” ODC Board Member Melanie Hollman said.
“I think it’s a lot different,” Collins replied.
Collins disagreed with Triplett-Hurt’s comparison of the idea to ODC setting aside $15 million for highway funding, saying that the City had asked the ODC to set that money aside.
“I think there is an outcry from the city, from the citizens that asked us to do something,” Cole told the board. “Does it fall within the confines of what we can do with these funds? Let’s discuss that. We saw that others have been able to do this to accomplish economic stabilization.”
Triplett-Hurt said that in order to keep the process rolling from the March 5 meeting, they would have to bring the request from compliance to this meeting, or else wait until April.
“All of a sudden we receive this email on Friday saying compliance committee accepted it, it’s moving to the City Council on Tuesday,” Tuminowski said. “What is? We don’t have a clue what the heck is going on, and we’re the freaking board!”
Cole reminded the board that the funds, if approved, would have to follow the exact course that all ODC spending goes through, from compliance committee to ODC to City Council, before they are used. Only the request is outside the norm.
“We’re not asking for a dollar to be spent today,” Cole said. “We’re asking for the money to be set aside so we can now start having further conversations, try to get other players in this, build a framework that we will build that will be approved by you and it will go through compliance scrutiny just like everything does today.”
Collins said he thought compliance would be setting a bad precedent by approving the funding without having any idea how the money would be used.
“Everything in life has to have a first, right?” Cole said. “There’s never been a precedence for anything that’s been started. If we are going to make changes in the city of Odessa, it is going to call for us to do some unprecedented things.”
Cole added that they would be talking with organizations about participating in the coalition, and said they had already received interest from Grow Odessa and Permian Strategic Partnership.
“Yes, this is something different,” Cole said. “But if we don’t do something different, we’re going to be sitting here a year from now saying we need to do something different.”
Grow Odessa President David Boutin was in attendance at the meeting, and told ODC he felt they were only seeking commitment from the ODC to support this endeavor.
“The beauty of this thing is the way your organization is set up, that you can have prescriptions on how you can spend your money,” Boutin told the board. “You have a committee who is charged with the responsibility of reviewing all the criteria that is submitted and then make a recommendation to you, and you eventually have the authority to approve or not approve.”
Collins told Boutin his response was accurate, but said his problem was he wasn’t sure another organization should be in control of the housing issue.
“I feel the city of Odessa has decades of experience working with HUD,” Collins said. “We have a city manager who for two decades worked on community development.”
Collins said he was really making a case for not starting another nonprofit, but using the expertise of those employees in the city to take charge.
Hollman told Collins that from what she had heard, City Council will be involved because all of the spending decisions will flow in the natural course to the City Council.
Tuminowski said they obviously know housing is a huge issue and they all want to help, but said they have no plan or direction yet.
“I think we’re getting $5 million and throwing it against the wall and seeing how much of it sticks,” Tuminowski said.
Hollman again pointed out that the resolution doesn’t ask ODC to spend any money at this point.
City Manager Michael Marrero told ODC he saw and felt that the City Council didn’t have any objection moving forward with the resolution, and that the short staff at the city could make it difficult to undertake the project by themselves.
ODC Board Member Tim Edgemon said he understood Tuminowski and Collins’ concerns with the resolution, but said again ODC was only looking to commit to the issue right now. Both he and Hollman motioned to approve the resolution, which was approved 3-2, with only Tuminowski and Collins dissenting.
More discussion is planned on how exactly HOW will work at another meeting at 7:30 a.m. Wednesday at Odessa Regional Medical Center.