Since there are hundreds of Opportunity Zone locations locations to choose from in the United States, it is important to establish criteria that would make the first project(s) the most visible throughout the entire year. For now, the three optional sites selected are shown on the map above (Bayview, Brownsville, San Benito). Some of the reasons to place the first project in the Rio Grande Valley are as follows.
- From a designer standpoint I would like to be close to the project site and establish a permanent residence there. For me the logical site location would be in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. This location fulfills most of the criteria needed to obtain maximum use and exposure. Three potential site locations have been preliminarily selected for discussion at this time, One in Bayview, Texas, one in Brownsville, Texas and one hear San Benito. These sites are just suggestive at this time and are used here to show how a planning process would work. The Bayview and Brownsville sites are about 26 miles from South Padre Island , Texas which is a major resort area. This would be a year round destination site. Matamoros, Mexico is just across the border from Brownsville and this would be another attraction most of the time. The airport serving this area is the Harlingen Airport which is 40 miles from Brownsville. The area is also a winter retirement area
- The average monthly climate for South Padre Island and Brownsville area is shown above and it is quite enjoyable with the exception of the heat in the summer. On the beach it is nice all year. However South Padre Island (Galveston to Port Isabel) has had 40 recorded hurricanes since 1930. It is considered a hurricane high risk area. This is why locations over 45 miles from South Padre are safer from having major damages. All areas have low rainfall rates. The area is noted for its tropical fruit production and Texas A&M has a major Agri-Life research facility there in Weslaco and an engineering college in McAllen. There is an excellent private soil testing lab in Edinburgh that tests for chemical and organic methods of farming/landscaping and this would be helpful for the ongoing research in the PDP.
- The first project must be in an Opportunity Zone to obtain the greatest funding potential for this type of project. The PDP would also be part of a designated Community Land Trust to insure that the money would be used for community use rather than a means to enrich the rich through gentrification. See Blog 14 for information about this type of funding. Other types of funding are also available for these kinds of projects and they will be discussed in future blogs.
- Different types of markets for this type of project is one of the largest determents for selecting a site location. Since this project has multiple uses it will need a special zoning classification and the time required for approval will vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. Because the main intent of this development is to provide affordable housing it should be approved with minimal problems if it is located in an Opportunity Zone. An environmental assessment would also speed up the approval process.
- One of the main markets would be providing low income housing. This project does that along with training of the people. This would be assessable for the homeless, and families needing job opportunities and a place to live. It fits the needs of single residents or a husband and wife family needing a small place. And presently these types of units are hard to find. It is a project where there is no comparison in the marketplace to what it has to offer. If larger family units are needed then some of the multi-family/student housing units could be made available or the triplex becomes a single family unit. Also two triplex units could be put together (detached units or the duplex units) to provide larger units under one ownership. Some of the units could be used by the “snowbirds” visiting from the north during the cold months. Their units could be rented out during the warm summer months and the unit then can be used for retirement. In fact it could be a retirement community for the full year. If the community is used for this use it could be higher end and placed in a more expensive area. There is student housing on site and the community could encourage use of these buildings by all age groups for rentals if student enrollment is down. In the right area the project could be used for a medium to high income resort. If this was done then a beach lot could be purchased on South Padre Island for a bar and restaurant and it would not have to have city utilities because it could provide its own sustainable one. The project could also be a home for seniors with the student housing and classes open for all ages. The versatility of the building options is what makes it unique. Whatever is done the project still would be a Pilot Demonstration Project (PDP) as originally intended.
- All three areas qualify for Opportunity Zone development.
- Site Areas 1: Bayview, Los Fresnos, Harlingen: There are only a few properties for sale now in this area that would be large enough to contain the PDP. This can change weekly, so this area should continually be checked to see what is available.. One tract in Bayview is 50 acres in size and is 1 mile north of Highway 100 on San Roman Road. The price is $ 5,300 per acre. A 30 acre tract in Harlingen is 30 acres for $ 14,500 per acre. It has al utilities and is near the Harlingen airport. Land in Los Fresnos costs $ 10,000 to $ 12,000 per acre. Land is available at an economical price and each site has to be evaluated by using a site and market analysis procedure (Blog 16). The projected use of the PDP determines what analysis procedure is used. Some of the criteria for analysis includes flood prone mapping, available utilities, paved streets, soil type, climate, etc.
- Site Area 2: Brownsville: The total PDP of 30+ acres could be established on a site in Brownsville in an Opportunity Zone (see map) or just one triplex built there and used as a marketing center. This could be replicated in other nearby cities to show the values available with a PDP community. Personally I would lean toward using the latter because it allows for more options to select a site due to its smaller size and the higher cost of a large tract of land would limit what could be done in the PDP. For example a 33 acre tract for sale on Dakota Avenue in Brownsville was $ 544,000 or $ 16,480 per acre. Another marketing option for a large tract of land in any of the 3 locations (30+ acre PDP) is that it could be used to house people coming to the border for asylum. They could obtain training in English speaking and receive citizenship training in a better setting than they usually would have by staying in the slums of Mexico (which is the present situation). It could also be a better means of controlling the number of people selected as well as a waiting area to meet any family members already living in the United States. This is a humane procedure and would allow people to work to pay for the benefits that they would be receiving. So many times immigrants with degrees and special skills can not make use of them here and this would change that situation. The project would also hire U.S. citizens for jobs and housing within the community so they would become a vital link in making the project work. However, this might cause objections from people living near the site.
- Site 3: San Benito, Los Indios: Rather than list demographic data on all of the sites I will just consider information for San Benito and Los Indios. All the data noted is from the 2019 U.S. Census. The site selected was due to the property being for sale at this time. This allowed me to use actual cost information which would be helpful in evaluating other sites in this opportunity zone. This type of data was not available for sites in Bayview and Brownsville. The information shown will help determine adjustments in housing designs, market information, available facilities in the area, social and cultural data, as well as specific needs in the Los Indios area. The turmoil on the border in respect to immigration policies is another factor to consider when planning activities near the border. The following maps shows where the proposed site is located.
It appears that the owner of site one is also going to list sites two and three at the same price per acre as site 1. This is $ 3,325 per acre. So site one is for sale for $ 156,740 (estimated payment $593 per month), site two $ 133,000 and site three $ 129,675 (not confirmed yet). Each of the three sites would be workable and a site evaluation would be required for each. A general analysis is as follows and it should be understood that this was done without going there and talking to the owner.
Sites 1, 2, 3:
Since Jimenez Road is unpaved, the utilities and road/utility construction would have to be constructed from Highway 509. This would be about 500 feet in order to connect to the property. There is a partial drainage canal on the property and a flood map from FEMA and a soil map from the agricultural extension service would be required for all three properties. The existing brush could be saved if it would add value to the development. A soil map would determine if there are building or soil absorption problems. What utility connections to the site were not mentioned for this site, but sites 2 and 3 did have electrical and water access. Sewage connections should also be evaluated for each site. A drainage analysis is needed for each site. Site 3 has a drainage canal on site as well as offsite drainage canals that would be available. The drainage analysis is to include what would happen when the lot is fully developed. Since agricultural production has been used for each site the soils should be good for that purpose. There is an electrical easement on two sides of site 2 for transmission lines and this should be included in the evaluation process. The San Benito sites are near the Los Palomas Wildlife area and this will add to their value because of easy access to a natural open space. Since the land is economically priced there could be an advantage for buying two sites. The site not developed could be used for agricultural production and a staging area for the site not being developed. There would be tax advantages for doing this also.
Some of the market factors will show the need for a project like the proposed PDP. The information in black boxes is obtained from the San Benito Land Plan. This is a 164 page report and the proposed project should be compatible with its requirements. This probably would be required due to the adjacency requirements of the city of San Benito. This is an outstanding report and being associated with San Benito is an asset for any development.
The information shown for determining some marketing conclusions is on pages 7 through 12 and they show why the area was chosen to be in an Opportunity Zone. I will make comments according to what is shown on each page in order to show how it relates to the PDP project for San Benito and in some cases other locations.
Page 7: Comments
San Benito is quite a vibrant community and has several festivals throughout the year celebrating their Hispanic and Native American heritages. Further information about activities there can be found on the internet. 37.5% of San Benito, TX residents had an income below the poverty level in 2017, which was 60.7% greater than the poverty level of 14.7% across the entire state of Texas. Taking into account residents not living in families, 23.7% of high school graduates and 68.3% of non high school graduates live in poverty. The poverty rate was 37.2% among disabled males and 35.9% among disabled females. The renting rate among poor residents was 53.4%. For comparison, it was 21.5% among residents with income above the poverty level. Read more: http://www.city-data.com/poverty/poverty-San-Benito-Texas.html
One graph shows the Financial Assistance and Poverty using food stamp use for San Benito and compares it to other cities in the RGV. The need for food stamps throughout the valley is much higher than the use in the State of Texas. Any PDP development should address this issue by developing a local market and raising family wages through training programs. The poverty rate in San Benito was 28% in 2010 and 37.5% in 2017 so it becomes an increasing problem. This is why a more self-sufficient program of living is needed. The purchasing power chart on page 11 shows that wages for most people have not increased very much in 40 years and this is one of the reasons people in the low income groups feel they are not making any headway even when they are working.
The second box shows some of the improvements in the area that will lead to more jobs especially along Highway 509. The Las Palomas Wildlife Management Area is located near all the sites and this could be made an ecological attraction and a place to use for teaching. The PDP could promote its use so people would have a better understanding of the local environment. The construction of the San Benito Wetlands project, which is also near the sites is another Eco-Tourism attraction. Finally, considered to be the jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge system, Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge is made up of over 2,000 acres of wildlife. You can hike the trails, check out the canopy walk, or explore the tree tower, surrounded by a diverse population of creatures. A nature tram also provides tours through the park. Terrific opportunities for wildlife watching abound in this beautiful spot, so be sure to bring your camera and binoculars!
Page 8: Comments
This page has graphs depicting persons per household and housing tenure ( owner occupied/rental) in Texas, Cameron County and San Benito. The majority of home ownership is for 1, 2 and 3 persons and rentals are about 27% of all households (2010). This is the market that is standard with what is provided provided by the PDP in its triplex, duplex and single family designs. The difference from what is provided with today’s homes is the PDP designs being more affordable and self sustainable. However updated data from 2019, shows that rentals have climbed to 55% of the housing stock. This is due to many factors with the main ones being the age of the housing, rising cost of home ownership, stagnant wages and fewer long term jobs. This is noted in the following tables.
Page 9: Comments
San Benito has a problem with most of its housing stock, 36%+ in 2012 being over 40 years old and it has the lowest medium home value in the area. This may be reflective to the age and condition of the home.
Page 10: Comments
In the top table a family of four living in the Harlingen/Brownsville area would be considered middle class with a household income of $ 44,000. This would be wages from one or two people. This represents 47% of the people living in that area. In Figure 2 it should be realized that the average wages in 1979 for each of the groups started off at a different level. The other two boxes are about immigrants. For the entire US 62% of the people polled said 62% of the immigrants strengthen the country while 28% said they were a burden. In January 2020 the Governor of Texas stated that the State would no longer help immigrants because the State already has done more than anyone else and the system was so broken it should be fixed by the Federal government before any thing else is done. Inept is the word that comes to mind. The next box is the educational attainment of immigrants from different regions as compared to the United States. Overall all foreign born rate equal to the U.S. born with the exception of those from the Caribbean, Central America and Mexico. Mexico and Central America have 54% and 46% of their people with less than high School education compared to 9% for U.S. born coming to the U.S.
This is partly why so many people object to present immigration policies (such as they are). However certain trades depend on this influx of people because they are the main groups in certain trades such as farming, landscape, housing and highway construction, tree pruning and removal, large equipment operators, services, transportation, etc. Without this labor base the price of many items would be much higher and in some cases the quality would be lower. Recently in Texas housing construction was slowed because of not having enough people in certain trades. Many other ethnic groups do not like this type of work and this adds to the problem. The proposed PDP offers training in some of these fields as well as household management, English speaking and citizenship. This then becomes a fast track to citizenship because people help each other in these communities. There are several colleges/universities and community colleges in the RGV and most universities have about an 80% acceptance rate.
Page 11: Comments
This page shows household income and educational attainment foe the Los Indios area. The largest numbers of units are in the under $ 10,000 group (21%) and the $35,000 to $49,000 (19.7%) groups. The under $ 10,000 group housing is probably in poor condition and should be replaced or an alternative provided in the PDP. The last box on the page shows how everyone’s purchasing power has stayed about the same from 1964 to 20118 when shown in constant 2018 dollars. In effect wages have not risen to any extent over that period of time. If this graph just included the lower 90% it would show that purchasing power decreased over that time frame.
Page 12: Comments
This page “U.S. workforce more concentrated in – large – and largely low-paid – occupations” (10 largest Occupations in the U.S.). This represents about 20% of all occupations. Poverty in the US is measured in terms of the federal poverty line. The poverty line is a threshold level. In other words, a level of income which you are either above (out of poverty) or below (in poverty). The poverty line varies for how many people are in a household. In 2018, the federal poverty line was $12,140 for an individual, $16,460 for a family of two, $20,780 for a family of three, and $25,100 for a family of four. Some of the occupations are near the poverty line and this explains why we have so many 2 person working households. Whether this is done is based on family size, extra child care costs, job availabilities, transportation costs, debt expenses, education costs, etc. In other words things are not as good as advertised by the government.
The information shown for determining some marketing conclusions are on pages 7 through 12 and they show why the San Benito area was chosen to be in an Opportunity Zone. Many of the facts show the conditions of poverty that exist, especially the age of the housing stock and the median household income. The information about Millennials having a sense of purpose shows that this type of project (PDP) would be accepted in the marketplace.
However, it should be noted that there is an opportunity to design a project that can take into account the great flood of 2018 that happened in the Rio Grande Valley. Some information on the flood shows the extent of damage that was caused by a confluence of storms.
Rainfall totals are listed in Rainfall tab of this report. In general, between 12 and more than 18 inches fell in the McAllen/Mission area, up to 16 inches fell near Weslaco, with the potential of 18 inches between Weslaco and Mercedes; 8 to 17 inches in Harlingen; 10 to 15 inches between Brownsville and Los Fresnos, 10 to 15+ inches in Port Mansfield and through the King Ranch of Kenedy County, 12 inches near Falfurrias, and more than 8 inches in parts of Starr County.
In addition to arroyos, drainage canals and ditches, resacas, and arroyos that filled to the brim and in some cases overspilled, gaged creeks and a portion of the Rio Grande also swelled to flood levels. The following crests were noted at three locations across the Rio Grande Valley and Deep South Texas:
- Los Olmos Creek near Falfurrias crested at 12.32 feet (moderate flood condition) during the evening of June 19th. This was the highest level observed since 1971, when Tropical Cyclone Fern dropped more than 10 inches of rainfall in a short period of time across the South Texas Brush Country.
- The Arroyo Colorado crested at 23.98 feet, the highest level since the Hurricane Alex Flood Control System (Floodway) event. This time, there was no release of water along the Rio Grande basin (i.e. from Falcon International Reservoir), just runoff from the rainfall listed above.
- The Rio Grande near San Benito crested at 51.6 feet, the highest since the Flood Control System event of July 2010.
Tale of the Tape – Initial Impact Statistics
The Great June 2018 Flood of the Rio Grande Valley will be remembered for a long time to come, not just for its damage which is likely to run at least $250 million, with the potential for $500 million or more – but also for the challenges faced by the region for potentially much more rainfall from an organized tropical cyclone that decides to sit and spin over the region for a few days – perhaps worse than Beulah, but in a region with five times the population and exponential infrastructure growth. The following information is from initial reports from Emergency Management partners across the Rio Grande Valley. More than 7,400 residences and businesses in Cameron and Willacy County with flood damage defined as minor to destructive by FEMA Standards.
- At least 20,000 residences and businesses considered “affected” by the floods. This includes the 7,400 listed above.
- More than 600 persons in at least ten shelters at the peak of the area-wide flooding
- Several thousand vehicles with varying degrees of flood damage
- Dozens to hundreds of roads, from neighborhood streets to major thoroughfares and frontage roads, closed during and after peak flooding
- More than 2,000 rescues from vehicles and homes were conducted
- 21,000 meals served by the American Red Cross
- Public infrastructure damage of at least $50 million in Cameron and Willacy County alone
A question may be asked “Why recommend this area for a PDP project when flooding like this can occur?” The answer is that a community can be designed to make allowances for flooding rather than building homes as usual. The site area is flat so lots and homes have to be designed so there would be minimal damage. The aerial map shows that 12″ to 14″ of rainfall fell on San Benito with only 6″ falling on South Padre Island. Special design elements can be designed on the 3 sites (or only 1 site) because of the low land costs. Working with Civil Engineers from the area a drainage plan should be designed foR 1/4 to 1/2 mile around the site(s). The street and housing could be placed on raised ground with soil obtained from the site. The lower basin could then be used for a reserve water collection area. This could be used for recreation, crops, wildlife and along with a model home designed to be 8 to 10 feet under water. The soil would be treated with organic compounds and microorganisms to make the soil able to absorb water easier and reduce runoff. Studies of past storms would provide other data to determine where water backups would occu if there was additional buildings built on nearby lots. Knowing directions of the main water flows would also be determined.
The houses would have different design features unique to this development. An architect would be hired that would have past experiences with what is needed to be accomplished by using accepted and new approaches for homes to be built in this type of environment. In some areas of Houston and New Orleans new homes are now required to be up on piers about 8′ high, but this is not practical or artistic for community development purposes. They will also have problems withstanding hurricanes. Small models should be made and used for testing what are the best methods and materials to use to use.
Some ideas coming to mind are:
- Use waterproofed concrete blocks or solid concrete walls at least 4 feet high around the house as raised footings for the concrete walls, All windows are to be above 4 feet high and completely sealed around the edges. If possible, they should have a lifetime warranty. The extra doors to the outside (flush with the existing door) would be 4 feet high and would pull up from the ground so they would be sealed to prevent water coming into the house.
- The corners of the house should have metal poles and a meal frame work constructed so that high winds would not cause cracks in the walls. Residence should be able to withstand 250 per mile winds.
- An interior drain and pump should be installed for emergency purposes inside the house.
- All interior walls should not be load bearing and metal beams used where necessary.
- Wood framework or sheetrock should not be used on the interior of the house. Any thing used should be mold and mildew proof.
- There should be one access to the top of the roof.
- A drainage plan should continually evaluated to determine if there would be changes needed in the community.
- Residences would be inspected at least once a year to see if are cracks in the walls, etc.
- Streets and driveways should be designed to withstand damage, or if necessary just use gravel roads with a designed drainage system. Do not allow parking on the sides of the street and this would reduce width requirements and be more self-sustaining.
- Access for electrical plugs should be in place prior to pouring the exterior wall.
- Grants should be available to cover some of the costs.
- Landscaping would be dry desert native plants with no landscaping adjacent to the exterior walls unless it is a low grass not requiring mowing. A single sprinkler (perforated pipe construction) would be placed near the exterior wall to maintain a constant even water maintenance around the foundation. This would be automatically controlled.
- Others to be determined.
This is just one format for designating a site that could be used for a PDP location. The next step is reviewing the site analysis criteria outlined in Blog 16. After that would be to establish what preliminary costs would be to build the features noted in Blog 17 – Model Homes and Sales. The majority of information is discussed in detail in the revised color edition of the book
Toward Self Sufficiency – Using Unique Sustainable Community Planning Concepts, published by Press to Impress.
Each these blogs will encourage readers to submit suggestions to make the project better, since diverse opinions make any program stronger in order that it can fulfill its purpose. A book about creating a sense of purpose is The Purpose Revolution – How Leaders Create Engagement and Competitive Advantage in an Age of Social Good, by John Izzo and Jeff Vanderwielen. 2018, Berettt-Koehler Publishers Inc.
– George Hunt