Development regulationsI thought I might comment on some of the weekend Chronicle stories regarding development regulation. I think Mike Snyder's article "Would more housing rules raise Houston costs?" did a fairly good job of being balanced, including input from Wendell Cox, Barry Klein, and Dr. Edward Glaeser - who echoed my point about most cities discouraging rental housing and keeping home ownership rates artificially high relative to Houston. In it he raises the question of why San Antonio - with planning and zoning - has lower median home prices than Houston.
Everything comes down to supply and demand - and when demand outruns supply, prices shoot up. Therefore, cities must act (or, more often, not act) to help supply keep up with demand. Lots of variables go into that equation, and those variables clearly differ across cities. Obviously, San Antonio is a much smaller city and metro than Houston, with a much smaller employment base, including many fewer Fortune 500 companies. It also doesn't have the same economic boom from energy, health care, and the port that we're seeing in Houston. San Antonio has plenty of land, and has obviously kept supply in-line with their more modest demand.
I know the Chronicle article focused on cities, not metros, but the size of the metro is a key issue, because of the overall population pressures on traffic and commutes (driving up demand to be closer in). San Antonio's metro is roughly 1/3 of Houston's. To be more comparable, let's look at similar size metros (around 4-6 million), all of which are more regulated to various degrees (source):
- Houston - $156K
- Boston - $415K
- Philadelphia - $243K
- Washington DC - $438K
- Phoenix - $256K
- Atlanta - $175K
- Miami/FtL/WPB - $347K
- Riverside/SB, CA - $377K
I found her quote at the end a little perplexing:
But my friend's home will still be standing, assuming developers who run this town (and who I understand recently joined forces in a group calling itself "Houstonians for Responsible Growth") don't manage to convince local politicians that they should use their eminent domain powers to, say, build a strip mall in the name of public progress.Is she kidding? Has this city ever used eminent domain for private development? I know it's an issue in some parts of the country, but that kind of comment/scenario just seems totally out of left field for Houston. The free market should work both ways: people shouldn't be trying to control others' property, but developers shouldn't be expecting government help to acquire land for their developments - and I think, for the most part, they don't expect that in this town. And I wouldn't expect a very friendly reception by city hall if they did.
Overall, the name of the game is balance, which is something I think Mayor White got right in his State of the City address. I'm glad he's asking for creative ideas on helping keep that balance while improving quality of life issues. It'll be interesting to see what sorts of solutions get proposed.