Neighborhood revitalization varies from lot to lot in the area around Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Birdsong Street, near Foster Middle and Hudson PEP Elementary schools in Longview.
On Chappell Street, vacant, overgrown lots with driveways to nowhere are interspersed between homes in need of repair and maintenance. A few years ago, though, several new, modest homes with neatly manicured yards and carports were built at the east end of the street.
The lack of continuity didn’t scare away builder Corey Shaw, owner of Shaw Construction, who participated in the city’s South Longview Incentive Program to build what are the largest new homes on the street, each with a 1-acre lot. The program waives thousands of dollars in building fees for constructing owner-occupied housing in certain areas of town. The program started with a focus on South Longview but later was expanded to include other areas of town.
His two craftsman-style homes — which sold quickly while he was building them — are 1,558 and 1,478 square feet. One that is still under construction has an open concept kitchen, dining and living room area, two bedrooms and one bath at one end of the house and a master bedroom and bathroom at the other end. The master bath has a separate area for the toilet, a walk-in shower and Jacuzzi tub.
Shaw intentionally built in South Longview, he said, because land is less expensive. He motioned toward one of the homes that has fallen into disrepair next door to the home that’s still under construction.
“That will eventually be torn down,” said the recent Eastman Chemical Co. retiree, waving it off. He also has plans for a larger, upscale development in South Longview.
“I’m trying to grow (South Longview),” Shaw said, and to build something with “a real nice appearance.”
The Chappell Street area also is home to new houses built by Dallas-based Ameritex Homes. The company has been active building in the area — single-family homes with signs that say for sale or rent and duplexes. The residences have been popping up in vacant lots where houses once stood around South Longview.
“The vision of Ameritex Homes is to build energy-efficient, affordable homes in communities across the state of Texas. We typically build on scattered lots allowing us to impact aging neighborhoods,” said Samuel Prater in an email. Prater is vice president of marketing for Carlisle Title, which includes Ameritex Homes. “This provides opportunity for new housing for working families in otherwise dormant areas.”
The homes appear to be generally the same — about 1,100 square feet with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. They don’t have garages or carports, and they generally rent for about $1,100, according to information found on the Ameritex website.
The company also built under the South Longview Incentive Program, but the city has started the process of identifying which of 40 single-family homes permitted under the program aren’t compliant because they’re being rented out instead of sold. As of a couple of weeks ago, the city had identified 25 properties that weren’t in compliance. Invoices had already been sent for Ameritex to repay building fees that had been waived for eight of them, to the tune of about $54,000. If Ameritex has to repay waived fees for all 40 homes, it would cost almost $260,000, according to information from the city.
“We are working to resolve the issue with the City of Longview, and now have a clear understanding of which homes qualify for the South Longview Improvement Program,” Prater said.
Michael Shirley, Longview’s development services director, said city officials met with Ameritex representatives several time before they started construction.
“Their initial intentions were to sell the properties. For whatever reason, they weren’t able to sell them at the price per square foot that they had into them,” he said, but the company was positioned to manage the homes as rental properties. “They’re a little different animal because they had so many started on the front end.”
‘Live better to do better’
District 2 Councilwoman Nona Snoddy has watched some of the Ameritex duplexes go up in her district.
“Our desire would be to have housing that is, of course, affordable, but housing that is also appealing and where people would have a desire and inspiration to live better and to do better,” she said.
She wants vacant properties developed in South Longview, she said, but she also wants to see higher quality homes built to help transform that area.
“We want our communities to be appealing and inviting,” she said, and then pointed to homes Ameritex built on Birdsong Street, next door to homes constructed by another builder that are larger, with garages, and built partially of brick.
“I would hope developers would consider trying to make things not only affordable, but a little more inviting in South Longview,” she said.
Prater said the size of the homes doesn’t not reflect their quality.
“Our homes range in size and plan, as in any neighborhood…,” he said. “ Our homes feature several upgrades on top of basic building material improvements that have been made over time. Solid surface countertops, new appliances, smart home features, new home warranty and others are just a few things that speak to the quality of an Ameritex home. Our goal is to not only build an affordable home for buyers and renters, but also create additional savings through energy-efficiency and durability of materials and craftsmanship.”
The homes Snoddy referenced are part of the Gregg Estates development that Daryl Gregg, of C&D Home Builders, started in 2015. Gregg said the homes he built on Birdsong average about 1,600 square feet living area, not including garages and porches.
Gregg sold the land on Birdsong on which Ameritex used to build the four homes, but he said he didn’t know when he did that of the kind of homes the company planned to build. No requirements were stipulated in writing, he said.
“I don’t want to put a blanket on people who live in homes like that. They’re good people who may not be able to afford the larger homes,” he said. “That doesn’t make them bad people because they live in a house that’s 1,000 square feet.”
Still, he said he was disappointed in Ameritex and “blindsided” by the homes the company built.
“I had no earthly idea that this company out of Dallas was going to build that type of house,” alongside the ones he had built, Gregg said. “I thought they’d stay in line with the type of house that was being built before they got there.”
Gregg also built under the South Longview Incentive Program. His subdivision was the largest to have been planned in that area in years when he began working on it in 2015, with 39 homes planned at that time.
He’s building one now that’s part of the same development on MLK Boulevard. It’s larger than the ones he built on Birdsong, at 2,400 square feet. He expects to start Phase II soon, including building a street named for his daughter — Cambri Lane.
“Once we do that, there will be about 20 more lots, approximately 20 to 22 homes,” Gregg said.
Michael Shirley, Longview’s development services director, said Ameritex has, since those initial 40 homes, permitted construction of some homes not under the South Longview Incentive Program.
This hiccup might cause the city to examine its process of verifying homes permitted under SLIP adhere to the requirements.
“(SLIP) has definitely had a positive impact,” he said. “It’s helped development of areas where there was maybe a group of lots in a neighborhood where a developer buys up five or six lots in an area.”
In South Longview, those lots might cost a few thousand dollars each, versus $20,000 in other areas of town. The SLIP program saves builders thousands in building fees, making construction less expensive.
“It’s a double-edged sword when you’re talking about affordability,” he said. “You’re trying to maximize every dollar you have.”
He said Longview doesn’t have façade requirements — adding that Texas cities are actually prohibited from implementing such standards. The city ensures the homes meet the minimum required square footages and all other building code requirements.
Size requirements could be placed in deed restrictions, but the city doesn’t enforce those.
“As far as the program itself, it had the potential to be a very successful program with them,” and help people transition into affordable housing.
It also brings new housing into areas plagued by vacant lots.
“So it’s putting houses back on the tax roll,” Shirley said.