Why Houston is Better with TIRZs, and Minimal Zoning Restrictions
Before getting to some smaller items, I want to comment on the Chronicle’s investigative report on TIRZs (tax-increment reinvestment zones). While I’ll admit they can be a bit of a mess and even a bit wasteful, what the reporters miss is that if the TIRZs were dissolved and the money sent to the City instead, it would just get gobbled up by the public employee unions long before it can do any good in any lower-income neighborhoods outside the TIRZs. As the pieces note, every mayor comes into office thinking they will go after the TIRZs, then realize they can make them work for the city as a whole by delegating projects to them (like improvements to Buffalo Bayou and Memorial parks), and shift City budget money to those neighborhoods outside the TIRZs. Finally, I think Houston’s core (and the City as a whole) would be in a much more precarious position if it wasn’t for the TIRZs making strong investments in Uptown, Downtown, Midtown, the Med Center, and other key districts to keep them attractive to employers and high-income professionals.
Moving on to a backlog of smaller items, mostly from my Twitter feed:
- You may find it hard to believe, but Houston has the shortest CBD commuting times of the major metros due to a high-capacity freeway and HOV lane network with great coverage (Chart 5, page 7).
- Harris County/Houston #2 behind Maricopa/Phoenix in total population growth over the last decade. Mapped: A Decade of Population Growth and Decline in U.S. Counties
- Texas #1 for gaining rich young professionals from other states: States Losing (And Gaining) The Most Rich Young Professionals – 2022 Edition
- “According to Nolan Gray, one of the reasons Houston is among the most affordable, diverse and economically dynamic cities in America is because it never adopted zoning.” ‘Houston’s lack of zoning fueled its growth and should be copied elsewhere‘
- Texas is their #1 destination: Young people earning $100,000 or more are fleeing California and New York—here’s where they’re going
- Video: “Of all the Texas cities – most of which I’m very bullish on – the one that is probably going to have the biggest success story for the next 30 years is by far Houston.” Hat tip to George.
- The City Without Zoning: “For the most part, Houston’s positives are linked to its lack of zoning, and its negatives are essentially unrelated to zoning.”
- The Search for Intelligent Life Is About to Get a Lot More Interesting: “In 2018, Frank attended a meeting in Houston whose focus was technosignatures… seek out signs of technology on distant worlds, like atmospheric pollution… “That meeting in Houston was the dawn of the new era, at least as I saw it,” Frank recalls.”
- Public comment submitted on raising I10 at White Oak Bayou: this project seems unnecessarily disruptive and expensive to keep the freeway open a relatively tiny handful of days every few years, especially given that 610 provides a natural alternative when I10 is blocked by flooding. Additionally, when the city is flooding badly enough to put I10 underwater, most households and businesses are hunkered down anyway, reducing demand. There are better places to deploy TXDoT’s limited resources.
- “The planned rebuild of I45 in Houston drew the largest number of comments, 382 of the 1,685 TxDOT received through a month-long public comment period. Of those, TxDOT said 299 were supportive of the project while 66 were opposed.” (source)
- “Houston prioritizes the ease and cost of building housing above almost all else. As a result, residents with money have a higher standard of living and those without have more humane sheltering options. Cities with other priorities sacrifice on both of these.” –John Arnold
- Texas #5 state for racial equality, and #1 for states with a significant Black population share. Hat tip to George.
- Houston is the largest metro below the national average for salary needed to buy a home. Map: This is the Salary You Need to Buy a Home in 50 U.S. Cities
- The American Conservative: How Zoning Paralyzed American Cities: “America should learn from no-zoning Houston, says Gray…What proved crucial to rejecting zoning was Houston’s allowance of deed restrictions, whereby neighbors can voluntarily opt into zoning-like restrictions and design standards…And while neighbors get a say over their neighborhood, Houston as a whole is still allowed to grow. It builds housing at 14 times the rate of its peers and, in the process, has become one of the most affordable and diverse cities in the country.””
“Is Nolan Gray really calling for zoning abolition? Yes, he is. And before you dismiss him—perhaps Houston isn’t your cup of tea, or maybe you simply like your home and its zoning, thank you very much—consider that Houstonians agreed with Nolan’s view in 1948, 1962, and 1993, killing zoning each time it came up for a vote, largely thanks to working-class voters. What proved crucial to rejecting zoning was Houston’s allowance of deed restrictions, whereby neighbors can voluntarily opt into zoning-like restrictions and design standards to ensure whatever character of their community they desire for the next 25 to 30 years. And while neighbors get a say over their neighborhood, Houston as a whole is still allowed to grow. It builds housing at 14 times the rate of its peers and, in the process, has become one of the most affordable and diverse cities in the country.”
- In Houston “Livable Places is updating city regulations to create more housing options in neighborhoods where deed restrictions allow.” Nice illustrations to explain it to the public.
This piece first appeared at Houston Strategies.
Tory Gattis is a Founding Senior Fellow with the Urban Reform Institute 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.
Photo: An accessory dwelling unit is shown in the foreground, by BeyondDC via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.