It’s been two years since a deadly EF-5 tornado swept through Moore, Oklahoma, taking the lives of 24 people, including seven children, and destroying nearly 1,100 homes. In the months following the storm, there was a housing boom, but that surge has since plateaued.
It’s easy to drive through Moore and south Oklahoma City to figure out exactly where the tornado came through two years ago. Construction vehicles crowd streets, overgrown weeds occupy lots where homes used to be and clusters of new houses pepper the once-established neighborhoods.
One of those new homes belongs to Paul Phillips. He’s a native Oklahoman and has lived in Moore most his life.
A tornado destroyed Phillips’ home in 1999, so he moved about a mile and a half south. That home was leveled during the 2013 storm. Instead of moving away this time, he chose to rebuild on his current lot. Lightning rarely strikes the same place twice, he says.
“My idea, which I hope I'm not wrong, is that it won't come this way, but I understand there is a chance that it will cross and that's just the chance I gotta take,” Phillips said.
Not everyone is willing to take the same chance. Phillips’ home is flanked by two empty lots. Several new houses have “for sale” signs perched in the lawn. Others are still boarded up and tarped.
Aside from the construction noise, the area feels quiet to Phillips. Few of his neighbors moved back.
“The only ones that came back was the house across the street, the house next door, and the gentleman down here in the corner, that's it,” Phillips said.
“Oh, and the lady three houses straight ahead, and I think a couple of the families over there. That's it. The rest of them just took off.”
Just down the street from Phillips is a 3 bedroom, 2 bath home complete with granite and quartz countertops, a spacious master bedroom and a huge walk-in closet. Kathy Griffith is the realtor.
“It's been finished for about two months, been on the market about 60 days,” she said.
Griffith says a similar house outside of the storm path would’ve probably sold by now. She’s shown this home a couple of times, but the area presents a unique challenge.
“People want to live in a neighborhood where everything's established, where you have that feel, you see people walking on the streets, you see people waving at you. So this neighborhood doesn't have that as of yet,” Griffith said.
Building permits for single-family residences have slowed substantially in recent months. The City of Moore has issued less than 700 of them for the roughly 1,100 homes destroyed, and most of those permits came in the first 12-15 months after the storm.
“That's about halfway through the rebuilding process. We know there's still more work to do out there in regards to housing,” said Jared Jakobowski, the City of Moore’s grants manager.
His office is coming up with ways to encourage people to move back in. The City is launching a housing rehab program this summer, which will theoretically help with the tarped houses, and Jakobowski hopes to roll out a down payment assistance program this fall.
Homes in Moore are slightly more expensive now than they were before the tornado. Last year, the city strengthened its building codes, requiring things like hurricane clips and stronger garage doors. It adds anywhere from $1,500 to $2,500 per home.
“We recognize we've been hit several times. We look at it as building a more resilient community and being stronger and recover from these storms,” Jakobowski said.
Jakobowski doesn’t think the increased cost has anything to do with the housing lull, and he says the slowdown is pretty common after a major disaster. The City saw a similar pattern in 1999.
More than anything, the market is saturated. Realtor Kathy Griffith says she knows her listing will sell, but buyers have a lot of options these days.
“It takes a little bit longer because there are a lot of other properties that are available and on the market that are in neighborhoods that are almost completely finished,” Griffith said.
“That's really what people are really looking for. They just like that look of something that's already going on instead of something that's in progress.”
As for Paul Phillips, the neighbor down the street, he wants to see his community back on its feet, but he can’t blame people for their hesitation.
“I thought we'd be built back by this time, but I think people are kind of scared by the fact that the F5 tornado came through here,” he said.
It’s a difficult balance for Phillips. Anytime a house nearby sells, he gets excited about the revitalization… but there’s still a dead tree on his street that he calls a painful reminder of the tornado that caused so much destruction two years ago.
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