Housing in short supply as oil boom ignites West Texas economy




Posted on November 12, 2012 at 11:00 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 25 at 1:00 AM

Fast facts
Traffic accidents:
Up 15%
Odessa unemployment rate:
Midland unemployment rate:
Midland drilling permits:
8,270 so far this year
Midland sales tax revenue:
$34,587,330 FY 2012
Odessa sales tax revenue:
$31.3 million so far this year
Permian Basin

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Across the fields of the Permian Basin, drilling is in full swing.  From loaded trucks flooding roads to hiring signs posted on Interstate 20, the massive oil boom in West Texas is driving the economy out of a long depression. 

It's the sizzle that keeps Susan Fisher busy. The co-owner of Pancake Alley in Odessa is feeding more diners than ever before.

"As far as business, it's great," Fisher said. "I'm glad to see it.  It's better for us."

But some of her customers are concerned.

"We are getting punished for all the new folks coming into town," said Odessa resident Jeff Corning. "We are spending so much money just to get by."

Water rates, traffic accidents, and the cost of housing have all increased.  Rents have nearly tripled since the boom began three years ago. 

We found Ann parked in front of an affordable housing complex in Midland looking for a new beginning. She's living in an RV park because she can't afford to pay for an apartment. She works for a company that's not directly tied to the oil industry. 

"Some of [the apartments] are around $1,000, $1,100, $1,200," she said.  "I can't afford it.  I get tired.  I can't make what everybody else is making in the oil field."

But workers in the oil business are also struggling to find housing. 

When W.D. Lewis moved his family from Dallas to Midland, house-hunting proved to be tough.  Home prices in the area have gone up at least 19 percent.  Supply is also tight.

"A lot of houses would be gone before you had a chance to look at them," Lewis said.

He finally bought a home, but for three months he had to live with his wife's family..

"If it wouldn't have been for her family, we wouldn't have come because we couldn't find a place to stay," he said.  "The hotels are booked."

The hotels are home to an estimated 8,000 oil industry workers.  The region now has the highest hotel and motel rates in the state, with the average cost around $300 a night.

The expense forced Jesse Dupre from Tarrant County to pitch a tent at at an RV park.  RV parks across the area are also at capacity. 

Dupre and a friend paid $25 for a spot to set up their temporary home;  that's $80 for his share per  week. He called it the best deal in town.

"I'm not going to stay in a motel," said Dupre. "I'm going to be broke before going to work.  This is as good as gold." 

Dupre will be driving water trucks to the oil fields. He plans to work long hours, but hopes to make $900 to $1,200 a week.  He wants to save his money. 

Dupre isn't alone. Other workers are doing the same thing, packing RV camping sites in Midland and Odessa.

Leaders in both cities are racing to catch up with demand.

"As the supply goes up, those prices will come down," said Midland City Manager Courtney Sharp. 

Construction sites in both cities are as common as drilling wells.

"We have permitted a little over 5,000, about 5,200 units that will be on line in the next few months, so we are starting to see it ease up a little bit," Sharp said.

In Odessa, the rush for relief marches on, too.

"We are having work camps that are coming in to take some pressure off," said Guy Andrews, director of economic development for the Odessa Chamber of Commerce. "We are building apartment complexes as fast as we can go."

It's still not enough. 

"This one is leased out at 100 percent," said Andrews pointing to one project.  "It's not even finished yet." 

Labor shortages are also delaying housing projects, but these are challenges that are worth facing in the cycle of booms and busts,

"It's the best of times," Andrews said. "And, the worst of times."

E-mail mdiaz@wfaa.com