El Paso, Texas, may have taken a tiny, yet necessary, step towards making it easier for developers to produce new units for the housing-starved city.
On Tuesday, the City of El Paso announced that it will change an ordinance that had previously required apartment builders to dedicate 1 acre of off-site public parkland for every 200 units built in the city. Now, those same develoeprs can build 2 acres of private, on-site parkland instead of dedicating an acre of public parkland for those same 200 units built. If the developer chooses not to build the park space, the firm would be required to pay $680 in park fees to the city under the old ordinance, according to KFOX television in El Paso.
“In the past, there was no credit for on-site parkland in these off-site parkland requirements,” Kathryn B. Dodson, the economic development director for the City of El Paso. “That’s something we fixed.”
Thanks to the Base Closure and Realignment (BRAC) program, El Paso needs 8,000 new units of housing for military members and support staff arriving on Ft. Bragg between now and 2013. MFE reported on the story earlier this year. Today, many multifamily developers are starving for work, particularly with construction deals nearly impossible to pencil out through the first half of the year. As a result, developers have asked El Paso for financial incentives and to reduce some of the city’s requirements for new housing developments.
Already, the city has offered to reimburse certain fees, depending on the number of units a developer builds. “The city is committed to try and chip away at the delta that exists,” syas Gary Sapp, president of the Southwest Division of the Hunt Development Group, which is based in El Paso.
Dodson says the city is aware of the financing problems and acknowledges that the green space ordinance change is just one of the many issues El Paso plans to address. “We’re streamlining our processes and making it a better place to build apartments,” Dodson says. “We’re looking at all of the options revolving around how to get these things financed and how to lower the cost of development.”
But, ultimately, Sapp says developers need help from a higher authority: the Department of Defense. He says the Department needs to increase its housing allowance rates before the costs will make sense for new development in El Paso. “The challenge is still the money in the soldiers’ pockets,” he says.