Some pretty cool Houston items this week:
- Bloomberg CityLab: Want More Housing? Ending Single-Family Zoning Won’t Do It. Houston excerpt:
“For a proven reform, look at Houston, arguably the most pro-housing city in the country. It doesn’t have use-zoning, which means that housing — including apartments and other multifamily housing — is permitted anywhere private covenants don’t restrict it. In 1998, Houston policy makers reduced the minimum-required lot size for a house from 5,000 square feet down to 1,400 square feet on all of the land within the city’s I-610 loop. This made it possible to replace a single-family house with three. In 2013, the 1,400-square-foot minimum lot size requirement was expanded to cover the entire city.
“Thousands of townhouses have since been built that wouldn’t have been permitted before. Houston now boasts a median home price below the national median in spite of decades of rapid job growth and increasing population. A typical house in Houston costs less than $200,000, compared with nearly $300,000 in Atlanta or a staggering $680,000 in San Diego. In other booming cities, more jobs and new residents have led to skyrocketing prices but few new homes.
“On paper, Houston’s decision to reduce minimum lot sizes seems similar to eliminating single-family zoning and allowing more than one unit per lot. The difference is that Houston’s other flexible land-use regulations allow homebuilders to deliver those new units in a cost-effective and desirable way. Houston’s rules ensure that three new units can be spacious, useful and an improvement on the detached houses they replace.”
- Mercatus: Liberalizing Land Use Regulations: The Case of Houston. The whole thing is definitely worth reading, with lots of good details on Houston’s history of liberalizing land-use regulations. It ends with this conclusion:
“The experience of Houston reaffirms much of what researchers already know: minimum-lot-size regulations limit urban development, driving up lot sizes and thereby increasing housing prices. By liberalizing these rules, the 1998 subdivision reforms allowed developers to meet a large and growing demand among Houstonians for smaller houses closer to major job centers.
“But the reforms also chart new territory: a key element of their success involved allowing homeowners with the most extreme lot-size preferences to opt out of reform, thereby mitigating opposition to the broader reform. Even accounting for this concession, post-reform subdivision has been heavily concentrated in neighborhoods that were either middle class or sparsely populated, without imposing an undue burden on traditionally marginalized communities. As planners and policymakers across the country wrestle with the complicated politics of land use liberalization, the case of Houston thus offers an instructive example.”
- NYT: New Yorkers Are Fleeing to the Suburbs: ‘The Demand Is Insane’. Some crazy stats in here. Excerpt:
“The suburban demand, driven in part by New York City residents who are able to work remotely while offices are closed, raises unsettling questions about how fast the city will be able to recover from the pandemic. It is an exodus that analysts say is reminiscent of the one that fueled the suburbanization of America in the second half of the 20th century.”
- Bloomberg: Thanks to the Pandemic, Luxury Hotels Become Home. This is pretty amazing to read. With the rise of remote work, luxury resort hotels are suddenly leased like long-term apartments. Sounds like waves of New Yorkers are heading to the islands for the entire winter!
- Houston Chronicle: COVID has forced Americans to flee their cities, but I’m not leaving Houston. My favorite excerpt:
“I’ve been fortunate to live in many different cities across the U.S. and Latin America, and I can honestly say that none of them were as friendly, as empathetic, or as inviting as Houston. It’s why I fell in love with this town. People genuinely believe in looking out for each other here.”
Finally, a pretty cool random discovery: Journey’s official live video for ‘Don’t Stop Believin’ was performed in Houston. They even tweaked the lyrics to include Houston!
This piece first appeared on Houston Strategies Blogspot.
Tory Gattis is a Founding Senior Fellow with the Center for Opportunity Urbanism and co-authored the original study with noted urbanist Joel Kotkin and others, creating a city philosophy around upward social mobility for all citizens as an alternative to the popular smart growth, new urbanism, and creative class movements. He is also an editor of the Houston Strategies blog.