Brownlee is more than an observer of Enid families' finances, he's also an employer, who has found it hard to recruit workers for lack of housing. He said he hired a woman who moved here from Tulsa — a tall woman with a 6-foot-6-inch husband — and the only place they could find was a small apartment outfitted for a handicapped person: extra low counters and furniture.
“You can put together as good a working environment as you can, in a city with the best quality of life,” but with no or little housing choice, it's not always enough, he said.
Brownlee's work also gives him another insight into Enid-area housing: The energy boom has created a lot of wealth for a lot of royalty owners — and most of it's sitting in low-interest-bearing accounts. Some of it could be invested in housing, he noted.
However, the study also found another obstacle to the market meeting demand, even if there were more builders: It cost more to build a house in Enid compared with, say, Oklahoma City (90 miles to the south), Tulsa (115 miles to the east) or Wichita, Kan. (125 miles to the northeast).
“Enid jobs are not significantly adjusted to take this into account. Plus, the expectations that potential Enid-area homebuyers have for new homes do not appear to be aligned to realistic pricing,” the study found. “The employee survey showed that those who might consider buying a home expect generally to pay between $500 and $1,000 monthly for their housing cost.
“Even at today's very low mortgage rates, this generally equates to homes priced well under $150,000, assuming the buyer is not contributing a high level of equity. Builders and developers report that it is difficult or impossible to build new single-family homes in this price range that meet the quality and size expectations of buyers.”
Researchers also found some factors at work in the Enid economy that would seem unusual — if not for the harsh reality of the 1980s regional energy and real estate crash and memories of it.
The study found “an existential concern, or even outright fear, about the potential for untimely reversal of the local economy leaving those who invest in housing suffering dire financial consequences; this is coupled with a general sense that the financial community does not understand the dynamics of the local market,” and, “a lack of leadership within the community to make housing development an economic development priority.”
Powell said the city, Realtors, and Enid Economic Development Alliance are working on the “fear” and “lack of leadership” part, using the study itself as a rallying point.
Meanwhile, Ritchie said some things that changed in housing here with the Continental scare can't be changed: Some builders quit for good, and a few closed. Some things are being slow to change: Lenders are reluctant to lend to startup builders.
New builders needed
What's the answer?
“God, I wish I knew. I'm doing as much as I think I can right now,” said Ritchie, who is a director and former president of the Oklahoma State Home Builders Association. “We need to attract some new builders.”
Tuttle-based Richardson Homes recently opened an Enid office, but Richardson builds custom home for people who already own land — and Enid needs spec builders, Ritchie said.
“It'd be nice if we could attract builders that would be willing to build spec houses. Production builders? I've talked to some of the production builders out of Oklahoma City. There's not a lot of interest in them coming up here. I can't tell you why,” Ritchie said. “We've got production builders that are operating in Stillwater but can't come to Enid and operate.
“They're very busy. They're busy in Oklahoma City. They're busy in Stillwater. They're busy in Mustang. They're busy in Yukon. And this may be just one step too far for them.”
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