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Doing the SoapBox thing...

I think this was written by someone we know here in LJ-land, but I didn't want to make an inappropriate connection, just in case I was wrong or what have you. Anyways. I came across this in the paper this morning:

New site for South Side school urged

and I came up with the following response which I thought I'd preserve...

I read your article in today's Borderland section and I was quite surrprised to come across one bit of information that was rather disturbing.

Ms Cristina de la Cruz says that she was offered $20,000 for her home and she calls this a fair price for it. I suspect that Ms de la Cruz is not vary familiar with the housing market in El Paso. $20,000 for any occupied house in the city is nothing short of highway robbery and it seems to be a favorite technique of school districts and other government agencies.

My parents live near Ysleta High School. A couple of years ago, one of their neighbors (who owns land on the same block that Ysleta High School and Ysleta Middle School stand) was offered $24,000 for 6 lots of undeveloped land that he was in the process of devloping. A few hundred feet away, my father has sold similar undeveloped lots of land for ~$20,000. In this city, that is a fairly reasonable price for even the smallest lots of land once they have all the utilities and can be devloped as homes.

Conservatively, their neighbor's land could be sold for $120,000.00 and the school district was offering him a fraction of that and threatening to use their power of emminent domain in order to take it. Their approach was nothing short of "you'll take this money and you'll appreciate that we were so generous with you". Their neighbor was in the fortunate position to be able to turn down their offer and since the district didn't have immediate plans, it didn't make any further attempts at aquiring his land. However, knowing how they can work, he built a duplex on the lot closest to the schools before they tried again. Now that it's built, it's significantly more difficult for the school district to come in and claim that the land is worth only $24,000.00.

I suspect that most of the homes being bought up in order to build the new school have not been sold in many years and are probably undervalued on the tax rolls. I believe that if you were to contact a few real estate agents in the city, they could confirm that $20,000.00 for a house is absurd, regardless of what part of the city it's in. The school district should be paying a legitimate "fair market value" for these homes (and not one based on potentially outdated tax rolls). I would challenge anyone to find 24 houses anywhere in this city for $20,000.00 each without using emminent domain to bully people into selling.

Why is Ms de la Cruz worried now? Because she's seeing just how far $20,000.00 will go in the city of El Paso... at least for anyone who isn't a school district. The EPISD should be ashamed of itself for trying to bully people into selling their houses, their homes for so little. People should not be taken advantage of by the school district in the name of progress.



Yeah, I've seen them. I didn't say that they're great houses, but the land itself is worth at least that much regardless of what's on it. It is possible to get good deals on land outside of the city limits, but often that doesn't include access to utilities etc... Despite what people may think, land is not cheap.

By definition, fair market value is supposed to mean that if they are given $X for their houses, they should be able to look around town and find a comparable house for that much. With a few rare exceptions, you can not buy a house for $20,000.00, even in El Paso.

Once in a while someone will sell their land/house based on what it's listed on the County's tax rolls, but more often than not, if a house/land hasn't been sold in several years it's going to be seriously undervalued (the newspaper did an article on that not too long ago). There's actually a pretty sweet scam that some people run in this town. They'll go around looking for property that hasn't seen much development in a while and they'll offer to buy it for what the county says it's worth and some people will just go ahead and sell it without talking to a real estate agent or appraiser. Often those people can turn around and sell that land for 2-3 times what they paid for without doing anything to it. Or with bigger chunks of land, they can make a huge amount by developing it as a subdivision (kind of what my dad did, except that he subdivided the farmland he owned around his house).

Bottom line, these people own their little houses/apartments. They may not be great houses/apartments but they are in a really good location as far as potential commercial properties and there is no way they can afford to buy something else in the city for what they're being offered. Even in the same general area, you're looking at $35k-$50k for the smallest houses/apartments.

Apparently the legal team that is helping these people is aware of that problem, but they aren't publicizing it much because they don't want to make the school district look bad. There are other reasons why putting the school there isn't such a great idea, but if it came down to a court fight it's likely that those people would get quite a bit more for their houses.