ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Historic neighborhoods in Abilene like Sears and Carver are at an all-time low when it comes to homes being built in the area. However, the City of Abilene is hoping to fix that by allocating $1 million of the city’s budget for a program to help build high quality homes at a lower cost. 

This is something some residents of the neighborhoods say is long overdue, including Julia Ortiz, who has lived near Sears Park for more than 60 years. 

“I paid $13,000 for this home,” Ortiz revealed. According to Zillow, her home is now worth about $94,000. It’s a stark contrast, but she said her house’s quality has drastically decreased. “The newer generation would like to live in a much better home than what I have.”

In fact, Ortiz said her entire neighborhood used to be nice, but the homes have not been updated. She credits the decline in interest to rise in cost of homebuilding. She told KTAB/KRBC she has not seen a new house built there in a number of years. 

Carver neighborhood resident, David Reese said his area is dealing with the same issue 

“This used to be a thriving side of town,” claimed Reese. “It’s all run down and, you know, not that many people live here anymore.” 

Because these areas are in need of affordable, quality housing, the City of Abilene said it will begin targeting them, using a program called “RebuildABI” to incentivize more local home builders to bring in higher quality housing. 

City Manager Robert Hanna told KTAB/KRBC quality starter homes can now cost between $225,000 and $250,000 in Abilene, which “prices a lot of people out of quality housing,” as he put it. 

The city will offer the following incentives to builders: 

Hanna said these incentives are not to help the homebuilders save money, but to ultimately allow the house to be sold at a more affordable rate, saving money for the buyer. 

These new homes will be built on lots that already have utility infrastructure present, such as streets, water, and sewer. These all attribute as major costs when it comes to homebuilding, as per Hanna. 

“At the moment, we’re talking about capping the price at $183,000. That’s 80% of the median sell price in 2022,” Hanna explained, adding that number may change in the future because they are looking to keep a home affordable why also allowing enough money for builders to build a good quality home. 

As of right now, the city has partnered with First Financial and Prosperity banks to offer interim financing, lower interest rates, and loans. 

Remodeling projects can also be used in this program, but it must be significant upgrades. The remodel cost must be $50,000 or 50% of the appraised value, whichever is greater. 

“If we’re going to have a public investment, we need to make sure that product’s going to last 50 years,” expanded Hanna.  

Building materials must also be purchased from a business located with the Abilene city limits. 

When asked by KTAB/KRBC how this will affect property tax rates in the surrounding areas of these new homes, Hanna replied, “Whenever you have reinvestment, home values go up, right? But it’s based off the value of that property. So, if the property is not improving, the evaluation of that particular home, it may go up a little bit, but it won’t go up substantially.”

Abilene is going to rely on the appraisal district’s process to be equitable, which Hanna said he was trusting of such. He spoke to a similar program used in Denison, where he worked before. Because of the program’s success there, he said Abilene’s could lead to major citywide improvement. 

“If it works, we’ll fund it again next year, and y’all may want to put more money in it. If it doesn’t work, I don’t know what else we can do,” said Hanna as he addressed the Abilene City Council. 

Mayor Weldon Hurt agreed, “On the council priorities, infill development is number one.” 

The target start date for RebuildABI is October 1, 2023, or soon after. Interested parties will be able to submit an application to the city to apply for the program. Projects must first be approved to be a part of the program before being built.

The city may also approve applicants for residential improvements north of South 27th Street under the parameters that the improvements are for a single-family residential structure in an establish subdivision that has been complete for at least 20 years, and that the intended owner is for single-family homesteaded ownership.