By Jackson Sharp
In the 2010 Census, Oklahoma City surpassed the 500,000 population mark for the first time. Over the last decade, the metro area has seen a massive surge of new home construction filling the empty corners of urban sprawl that followed the completion of the Hefner Parkway in 1992. But in some of the city’s most historic neighborhoods, many of which fell to crime and disrepair in the 1990s, a younger generation is sailing back toward the city center, bringing new style to old homes.
At 25, Erick Silva owns and maintains 14 properties across the Oklahoma City area, and he’s looking to buy more. Learning at the hands of his family’s own property management business, Silva operates two limited liability companies on his own, Silva Properties and AE Silva Properties.
These homes, peppered throughout areas close to the core of Oklahoma City, are what Silva describes as infill properties. According to Michael O. Minor, former community development specialist for the Memphis division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, infill property can be broadly defined as a community of older homes that have been completely refurbished in urban area neighborhoods.
“I buy distressed properties,” said Silva. “I’m trying to buy property in areas like the
Plaza, or even in areas that, like, I think are going to become even better, so I’m buying some in the northeast corridor. I’m hoping to capture some of that eventual appreciation in the future.”
According to the Norada real estate group real estate prices in the core of Oklahoma City, meaning south of NW 50th Street and north of I-40, rise about 1% to 2% a year. However, the average price of a home throughout these older neighborhoods rose from just over $105,000 in 2016 to around $120,000 in 2017.
Silva believes that these neighborhoods rent well because their locations are so central to the city’s center. With a growing restaurant scene and a flourishing nightlife, more people want to be closer to the action, said Silva.
Kelsea Hammons, 24, believes she is one of many that have left the suburbs to live a more enjoyable life closer to downtown. Hammons moved to the Paseo District in March 2018, an adobe-style arts quarter of Oklahoma City once plagued by gang violence that has become a hot area for real estate in recent years, according to US News.
“I think that people here are more open-minded,” said Hammons. “Like, most of the people that live down here are in their twenties, and like, if someone lives here in their forties they’re like a hippie.”
Hammons, a native of northwest Oklahoma City, lives in a renovated apartment building that she shares with a roommate. Her unit features original wood floors, stainless steel counters and all new appliances and bathroom fixture. For the most part, rent has been fairly affordable too, Hammons said.
When it came to leaving her suburban upbringing, Hammons said the choice decision was easy. A graduate of Putnam City North, Hammons believes that the suburbs of Oklahoma City lack appeal to younger people who have ideas different from their parents.
“I just think that there’s nothing there,” said Hammons. “Like everyone that has stayed there has been there for 15 years or more .It’s very conservative and there’s just not much to do.”
According to Hammons, her biggest inspiration for moving was the opportunity to be closer to the action of the city and have to drive less. Living in the Paseo, Hammons says she is able to walk to restaurants, bars and concerts that would otherwise take a half-hour or more to get to using the highway.
The neighborhoods that Silva focuses on purchasing are similar to the Paseo, comprised of homes built mostly between 1920 and 1950. The Plaza district in particular is the result of the revitalization of the once troubled 16th Street corridor located between Pennsylvania Avenue and Classen Boulevard.
A historic area minutes from downtown Oklahoma City, the Plaza district was once plagued by crime. After Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma’s 2005 purchase and renovation of a the old Plaza Theatre, more businesses began to setup shop and clean up the streets, according to the Oklahoma City Arts Council.
Today, this portion of 16th Street is now one of Oklahoma City’s cultural hubs, lined with art galleries, vintage boutiques and some of the city’s most popular bars and restaurants, according to the Council.
“I think real estate prices have come a long way from where they began,” said Silva. “I think it has a lot to do with people moving back to the infill and then the city investing more into, I think, Oklahoma City.”
With programs like the MAPS project, Oklahoma City has headed several major renaissance efforts throughout the urban core in an effort to revitalize areas that fell into disrepair and abandonment.
The fall of downtown Oklahoma City in the 1970s and 1980s is due in part to the failure of the Pei Plan, a tax-driven initiative designed by world-renowned architect I.M. Pei that cleared up to “40 percent” of downtown’s historic buildings for visions that never came true, according to architectural blog City Lab.
Currently on its third phase, the MAPS project is a series of voter-approved urban renewal efforts funded by limited term, one-cent sales tax that Oklahoma City residents have passed three times since 1993, according to the Oklahoma City government website.
Today’s project, MAPS 3, was passed in 2009 and began the following year with an expected budget of $777 million and is expected to be completed in 2022.
Most recently the results of this phase of MAPS has seen success with the addition of the Oklahoma City Streetcar and the opening of Scissortail Park. The program also renews sidewalks across the city, implements new walk trails and erects senior wellness centers across the metro, according to the project’s website.
For Silva, his contribution to the renewal of Oklahoma City exists in the property that he renovates and then rents out. Most of his properties have simply cosmetic repair and updates, while a few have required being gutted to the studs and transformed into something totally new.
“You know putting in new kitchen cabinets, and then granite, or just some type of new countertop surface and then new tile in the kitchen,” Silva said. “New laminate flooring throughout the living room and then just fresh paint.”
But Silva hopes to go beyond basic renovations, and plans to begin tackling bigger projects now that he has the capital available.
“I want to start doing more,” said Silva. “Because I’m actually about to start buying them a lot more distressed so the rehabs are going to be a little more intense.”
For Dalton Schmitz, 25, house-flipping was a hobby that started with his father and turned into a source of supplemental income.
Purchasing a house on Drexel Avenue in what was once a neighborhood full of doctors working at the nearby Baptist hospital, according to Schmitz, he and his father renovated a home that they had purchased after being disappointed in the available rental property that was on the market when Schmitz first moved to Oklahoma City from Stillwater in 2015.
“It was an 1,800 square foot home and we got it for $150
,” Schmitz said. “Found some cheap contractors, got a loan from a bank and it took about six months.”
Schmitz and his father completely transformed the house, opening up the kitchen to the rest of the living areas, replacing the original floors with wood-like tile, fresh paint and new countertops and fixtures throughout the house. They sold the home for $225,000, Schmitz said.
“I think we set the record per square foot in that neighborhood,” Schmitz said. “After we flipped it, all the homes around there started selling.”
Schmitz believes that Oklahoma City is a great market for house-flippers because older homes in the area can be purchased for such low prices. With the recent interest in the revitalization of older neighborhoods, younger people want to move into homes that are already redone with not much to update, Schmitz said.
“I enjoy buying a rundown home and then, like, turning it into what it can be,” said Schmitz who’s currently renovating a home in Norman. “The neighbors of the house on Drexel, they all said the original owners would have been proud, they wouldn’t recognize it as their home and, you know, that felt really good.”
For a long time, areas nearest downtown Oklahoma City fell victim to high rates of crime and gang violence, leaving some of the city’s most historic and ornate structures in disrepair or vacant. While the suburbs may still be expanding at the corners of the metro, a younger generation is trading their subdivision roots for a taste of character and the heart of the city is beginning to beat again.