The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

July 11, 2013

Needed in Enid: A place to live

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Only a handful of new homes have been built in Garfield County in the past five years — just one of several signposts highlighting a growing problem in the region, according to a study released Thursday.

Steve Spillette, the head of a firm tasked with studying Enid’s housing market, said new home construction peaked in 2008 but fell off, coinciding with the recession that began that year.

“Instead of recovering since then, it’s fallen off a cliff. Since 2011, you’ve basically quit building houses,” Spillette told members of the Enid Regional Development Authority.

And the houses that are being built aren’t meant for wage-earners being drawn here to work in the staple sectors of energy and agriculture.

“What’s happening is that there are fewer houses being produced and they’re more focused on the top end of the market,” said Spillette, president of CDS Market Research.

What’s needed

Enid could support up to 400 new rental units over the next two years, according to Spillette’s study.

A draft version of the research study conducted by CDS Market Research, says that at a minimum, it is reasonable for developers to immediately build 150 to 200 homes. The report states “the market could likely support at least twice this amount” — particularly if they are more affordable homes.

Enid’s residential market could also handle up to 400 new apartments, according to a summary of the draft.

“East Enid, which is adding retail and services, is improving as a community and would be a suitable location for more affordable housing developments,” the report states. “That said, any area of Enid could work for a high-quality affordable multifamily development, provided there is community support.”

The CDS study also stated that an upscale apartment complex, if opened today, would quickly fill 75 or 100 units.

100-percent capacity

Enid’s stock of homes is skewed toward older structures. Most of the homes built in Enid are at least 40 years old, Spillette said.

“It’s nice to have older housing, because it tends to be more affordable,” Spillette said.

However, on the other hand, he told  ERDA that workers moving to Enid might be used to having something newer, with more amenities that modern homes elsewhere provide.

That extends to multifamily housing, also known as apartments. Just a fraction of the complexes in Enid are younger than a decade and even then, virtually all are at 100-percent capacity, the CDS study reports.

“We’ve never seen statistics in any market we’ve worked in that are quite like this,” Spillette said.

Houses for rent rarely stay vacant, he added.

“It’s all full. Even if they’re not happy with the house they’re renting right now, they’re not willing to move out because they’re afraid they can’t find anything else,” he said. “They feel, out of fear, that they have to stay where they are.”

That’s pushing residents to “settle” for apartments and houses they might otherwise ignore.

“There’s a lot of great landlords here in Enid, but there’s some that aren’t,” Spillette said. “Because the market is so tight, and they don’t necessarily have to invest in their properties to get tenants, they’re letting maintenance go.”

‘Existential fear’

There may be a day in the near future when the energy boom will bust, forcing oil field hands to look elsewhere for work. Acknowledging this, Spillette encouraged optimism in Enid’s business crowd, which packed adjoining ballrooms of Oakwood Country Club Thursday for ERDA’s annual meeting.

Since his firm began its study a few months ago, he’s heard about the “stickiness” of the local economy that’s keeping more investors from tackling large developments. A complaint in town is that the investment community doesn’t understand Enid’s market, and those who look here are scared by previous oil and gas busts.

Not so, Spillette said, noting the expanding industrial-agriculture sector.

“It’s an existential fear that the growth we’re having is not permanent,” he said. “Our research shows that it’s not true. It’s real, it’s long-term and it’s not going away.”