Oilfield Needs New Homes, Not RV Parks
In Seminole, Texas, the housing shortage is so extreme, even the chief of police has to live in an RV park.
Bernie Kraft, the police chief, started work in November and has been searching for a permanent dwelling ever since. He spends his weekends in Midland, where his family still has a home and his daughter is finishing her senior year in high school, the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported.
“The prices are really high for what they are selling,” Kraft said. “I’m now looking at buying a lot and building.”
When Kraft moved into the RV park, he was one of four or five residents, now it is nearing its capacity, around 15. Growing plots of RV parks have become the rule since oil has boomed in West Texas. Workers and their families and others, like Kraft, find shelter these days where they can.
Kraft said the growth is good for the community, but comes with growing pains like traffic and crime.
“Anytime you get a booming population,” Kraft said, “crime seems to come with it.”
But, at the RV park where Kraft lives during the week, he said things are quiet.
“People are just looking for a place to park their RVs,” Kraft said, “and to go to work.”
While he joined the Army right out of high school, living in an RV has been a new experience for Kraft.
“The last few storms rocked me to sleep,” he said. “I just consider it an extended camping trip.”
The RV Kraft spends his weeks in has a small stove, a bathroom area with a shower and a sleeping area. He bought the 31-foot unit for $24,000 so he could move to Seminole for his job.
“It is home for now,” Kraft said.
But he hopes to have better housing by this summer.
Seminole is a new town for Kraft, but he has lived in West Texas for the last 22 years. He believes the technology being used makes this oil boom different than previous ones, which didn’t last.
As president and CEO of the Seminole Area Chamber of Commerce, Shelby Concotelli also hopes the growth lasts.
“Our restaurants are filling up,” Concotelli said. “Everyone is full and busy. It is a good problem.”
Much of the growth is because of the oil fields, Concotelli said. And some it is from people who are working in New Mexico and prefer to live in Texas. She said the school system and the lack of an income tax cause some people to make the choice.
“It is a great place to live and raise your kids,” Concotelli said. “Our quality of life just keeps improving.”
If the boom does last, Judy Holmes, the co-owner of Trailertopia RV park in Snyder, will most likely maintain a full house. The park has been in the family for 21 years and she said it has been full for the last 5½ years.
“I turn a lot of people away,” Holmes said.
And when Holmes says a lot, she means two to three people a week.
However, the demand doesn’t mean she plans on raising prices. The current fee residents pay is $210 a month, plus electricity rates.
“It is more affordable than a motel,” Holmes explained why people live in RVs. “And apartments are hard to come by in Snyder.”
The majority of her tenants are working in the oil fields.
Word of mouth
The oil boom in the Permian Basin has put such a crunch on housing from Midland and Odessa, north to Snyder that a blog has surfaced on the Internet, directing people to possible leads on housing — any kind.
Oilfieldlodging.com provides workers and companies with different oil field housing types, from hotel rooms, man camps and RV parks. Among its partners are Sunbelt, Weatherford, EOG Resources and Halliburton.
The blog on the site points out that Midland City Manager Courtney Sharp predicts the boom in the Cline Shale could bring in as many as 10,000 more workers in the next few years.
Already, RV parks are popping up along the Interstate 20 corridor on either side of Odessa and Midland, seemingly joining the two cities.
The shale play seems to be moving toward Snyder, which is expected to double in growth this year, according to the blog.
No fix for the future
It is the long term that Bill Lavers, executive director of the Development Corp. of Snyder, is worried about. He doesn’t think RV parks provide the solution to growth.
“They fix the immediate need,” Lavers said, “but are they a long-term solution? Not really.”
One of the problems he points out is RV parks don’t provide the same tax value to local governments as a family home. Another issue he raises is whether businesses will be willing to invest in the community without an increase in permanent housing. He points out that RV park tenants can leave the community at any time.
Lavers also talked about the importance of ties between the new workers to the community, and their employers. He said when people like Kraft return to homes outside the community on the weekends, they are taking a good share of their income with them. And he suggested some of these workers are less likely to become long-term employees. He explained workers in permanent housing have a more solid job retention rate.
However, Snyder has a shortage of permanent housing. And in some cases it is easier for developers, and they can make more money, on an RV park, Lavers said.
In addition, he questions if they are changing the housing demand.
“If we didn’t have the RV parks,” Lavers said, “we might have a push for more permanent housing.”
Lavers wants it to be clear he supports permanent housing and questions how many RV parks the community can support. But, he isn’t against their development.
“I’m not opposed to RV parks or the folks who live there,” Lavers said. “But, for a community to grow, it grows with families, and it is hard for a family to live in an RV.”
Like Kraft, this boom is different for Lavers in part because of new technology. But, he also added it isn’t just about development of the oil fields. The hotels are also full of people involved in wind energy, he explained.
“The economy in Snyder is good,” Lavers said. “It is better than most towns in West Texas and in the country.”
Merle Taylor, the Snyder city manager, also pointed out jobs are coming from multiple sources.
“I’m sure the biggest majority of it is related to the oil fields,” Taylor said, “or wind energy.”
The hope Taylor has is these new workers will spend their paychecks supporting local businesses and become part of the community.
“We would like to see them become permanent residents,” Taylor said.
The long-term questions Taylor has are based on how long the new jobs, and workers, will be in the community. In the future, he pointed out current RV parks could be neglected if they cannot attract residents or if their current residents follow temporary jobs to another community.
“There is no reason to maintain them if they are empty,” Taylor said.
The solution for Taylor, like Lavers, is to create more permanent housing. He said schools are an example of a part of the community that struggles when facing growth of a potentially temporary nature. They have to deal with the problem of increased enrollment, but for how long?
“Is it going to be a six-month problem,” Taylor said. “Or is it going to be a 12-year problem?”
When a property is used as an RV park, local governments and schools see a smaller increase in tax income. Taylor explained they don’t get any taxes for the value of the RVs themselves, only an more taxes based on an increase in the property’s value.
The city and county are planning for the future by developing and selling lots for new homes. The first phase of the project on land owned by the county will build roads and install utilities to about 90 lots. A second phase is planned.
Taylor doesn’t know if the growth will last three years, or 30 years, but he is glad for it.
“We are very pleased with the growth,” Taylor said. “And I hope it remains on a steady, stable increase.”