Sunday, December 09, 2012

Social media solving crimes, Houston skyline TV, satellite shale, boom times, and more

The smaller misc items have been stacking up fast, so here we go:
"The second thing that stands out is Texas. The focus on just the very top of the league table for large metro areas actually understates the performance of the Lone Star State. Looking at all metropolitan areas, 8 of the top 20 and 17 of the top 50 metros, in terms of percentage employment growth, are in Texas."
"In the only major city in the United States without zoning laws, developers can, in theory, build virtually anything, anywhere in the city. In practice, however, understanding and catering to local industries is a critical element in site selection, Mr. Cover says. “When you really get down to it, the city is market-zoned, because land prices are not based on zoning rights, they’re based on purely capitalistic, highest and best use value,” he said. “If you build the wrong product or build in the wrong place, the market is going to severely punish you.”
But while Silicon Valley basks in the golden glow of the wealth spotlight, Houston, TX is quietly minting new millionaires at a fast pace. 
For the last two years Houston has enjoyed more growth in the number of High Net Worth Individuals–people with at least $1 million in investable assets (primary homes don’t count)–than any other U.S. city. 
A recent Capgemini study found that Houston’s millionaire population surged by 9.6% to a total of 96,700 wealthy citizens from 2009 to 2010. The year before that, Houston saw its millionaire ranks surge by 29%. 
What’s stimulating the increase in Houston’s millionaire roster? Old school fossil fuels. “The strong presence of the oil and gas industry in Houston benefited local HNWIs as oil prices grew over 15% in 2010,” William Sullivan, Capgemini’s head of Global Market Intelligence, wrote in an email. “Additionally, of the 10 markets studied, Houston had the highest per capita income growth (8%) compared to a 4% average growth for the other nine markets.”
Finally, check out the 39:36 point in this episode of the CW series "Arrow" and see if you recognize the skyline.  The show is set in the fictional "Starling City" and filmed in Vancouver, but that's most definitely our skyline.

I've got more items, but this post is already pretty full.  Have to save the rest for a future post...

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16 Comments:

At 9:45 AM, December 12, 2012, Blogger Michael said...

I think the second part of the quote is more interesting:
"When you really get down to it, the city is market-zoned, because land prices are not based on zoning rights, they’re based on purely capitalistic, highest and best use value,” he said. “If you build the wrong product or build in the wrong place, the market is going to severely punish you.

And what is the wrong place in Houston? Apparently anywhere that does not have good freeway access as virtually 90+% of all major commercial and multi-family projects are built within 1-2 miles of a major freeway or freeway intersection, or at the very least a major thoroughfare like Kirby or Westheimer. And who builds the freeways and major roads? Not the market.

So you can call it market-zoned if you want, but Houston is still heavily influenced by the infrastructure that is mostly built and planned by government. At the end of the day I'm not sure there is a heck of a lot of difference with a government zoned city like Dallas, Austin, or San Antonio.

 
At 9:54 AM, December 12, 2012, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Huge difference. Yes, government always plans major infrastructure: roads, freeways, sewers, etc. That's universal. But that's completely different from telling you what you can and can't build on your private land.

 
At 11:10 AM, December 12, 2012, Blogger Michael said...

There may be a difference in procedure, but I am arguing that the outcomes that you see in Houston - such as development along the Energy Corridor, Galleria, new Exxon campus, etc - could just as easily be happening in Dallas. The market forces dictate that the development occur next to government planned infrastructure. Whether the builder has to ask for additional permissions to build it or not, the outcome is very similar.

Certainly in a city like Chicago there are huge differences with Houston in terms of what gets built and where, but not so sure if that is true of loosely zoned or forms-based zoned cities such as other major Texas cities.

 
At 11:41 AM, December 12, 2012, Anonymous awp said...

Micheal,

This has actually always been my argument against zoning. To me the Urban form of Houston is not that much different than other cities, except that it is cheaper. Developers do not have to jump through a bunch of hoops or pay anyone off.


"The market forces dictate that the development occur next to government planned infrastructure", unless govt. rules tell you that you can't build what the market wants (near the infrastructure) without paying the city off.

 
At 11:58 AM, December 12, 2012, Blogger Michael said...

AWP,

Yes, I agree with you, except that I favor some type of forms-based zoning to prevent the fringe cases that I do not think should be built - such as perhaps Ashby or other cases such as new Heights development - or cases where "the market is going to punish you" - but maybe the market allows you to build something stupid before you feel that punishment.

It is not clear to me that the costs of zoning for places like Austin / SA / Dallas outweigh some of the benefits, such as slightly better aesthetics / planning / transportation potential in those cities. And how much of a cost is there anyway? After all Houston already has people employed in planning and looking at variances, set backs, parking requirements, working on legal issues as they arise. IMHO zoning could actually prevent some of the legal costs / cases that Houston faces or has dealt with in the recent past. I'm not going to say zoning is cheaper than what we have now - just that it is not clear to me, whereas there do seem to be some benefits to having it.

Again, I think we are arguing over 1-2% of cases here. But I just don't really think lack of zoning has much to do with Houston's current economic success. The government pouring massive amounts of $$ into I-10, 290, local roads, etc. have far more to do with Houston's success, as do Houston's natural advantages as a port, warm-weather city, natural resources, with a young population, medical center, and the list goes on and on.

 
At 1:43 PM, December 12, 2012, Anonymous awp said...

I thought Ashby was great ,objectively, at least until the neighbors managed to remove the retail which was the part that would have benefited the local area. It is close to Rice, the rail line, and Montrose. Near downtown and the med center. Subjectively I didn't really care either way, but how do we decide whose subjective opinions matter.
When would you have stopped the redevelopment of the Heights. It is not that long ago that it was kind of trashy as opposed to being the quaint little neighborhood everyone loves.
I really doubt that a random govt. planner actually has a better idea of what is the best use of a piece of land than the people whose money is on the line.
The fact that we are already paying the cost of a lesser planning regime is not a very good argument for a stronger planning regime. Funny you should mention parking minimums.
A clearer regime would lower costs associated with lawsuits. Looking at Austin ( http://www.austincontrarian.com/austincontrarian/2012/11/zoning-capacity-study.html ) I doubt that more rules would make anything clearer.
Houston's current economic success is primarily due to the persistently high price of energy. Our cheaper housing means we are slightly more successful and in the long term will grow slightly(compounded over decades this adds up) faster than we would have otherwise.


 
At 2:17 PM, December 12, 2012, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Yes, it allows mistakes. But it also makes it easier to correct those mistakes. Houston is a vibrant city of experiments. Not all are winners. But we're taking a lot more swings than tightly controlled zoned cities.

As an example, a lot of those commercial/industrial areas along 10W inside the loop would be forced to stay that way under zoning, but are being changed slowly to a higher and better residential use by market demand, which is revitalizing those neighborhoods.

Zoning almost always leads to corruption, whether hard bribery or soft political campaign contributions.

Lack of zoning gives us the lowest cost of living of any major metro in the country, which maximizes discretionary income that supports all of the vibrant things we love about Houston, like the restaurants, arts, culture, etc. Just had a Chronicle story this morning:
http://www.chron.com/business/article/Houston-has-become-a-dining-and-culture-4109666.php

 
At 2:24 PM, December 12, 2012, Blogger Michael said...

>>I really doubt that a random govt. planner actually has a better idea of what is the best use of a piece of land than the people whose money is on the line.

Again, my point is whether you like it or not, this government planning is already happening in the form of freeway and road-building and our "lesser zoning regime", and causing virtually same outcomes as you would see in Austin / Dallas / San Antonio. And we already have rules about what you can build inside / outside the loop - see http://www.houstontomorrow.org/livability/story/coh-to-extend-urban-zone-out-to-beltway-8/

The only question is what to do about the fringe cases that should probably not be getting built in the first place, and I would say prevent them through form-based code.

The argument about cost / benefit to me is simply that we are already paying some of the cost, and there are benefits to preventing bad development that may drains resources and infrastructure away from where it should be getting invested (which are mainly the existing freeways / corridors). If another corridor should see denser development, then it should be a zoning change and a planned change, not haphazard with no drainage, sidewalks, transit, etc as we do in Houston.

Our cheaper housing is due to the fact that Houston metro has no boundaries on greenfield development - so we can have a huge quantity of development out to Woodlands, Katy and beyond. Areas inside the loop are expensive, and as several articles have mentioned rent increases in Houston are leading the country at a 10%+ annual clip. So will be interesting to see if Houston remains affordable, especially inside the loop and to some extent inside the Beltway. In many cases the new developments are luxury developments like the new apartments which will be built near Highland village, not affordable developments.

Even Chicago, NYC, and LA were affordable at one point. I would not be surprised to see Houston's affordability near the loop deteriorate over the next decade or so. Zoning or not.

 
At 2:33 PM, December 12, 2012, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

The beauty of no zoning is that there are a ton of apt projects under construction. Supply will catch up with demand, and rents will moderate. Even if the new capacity is all luxury, a domino effect will reduce rents at older places in order to compete with the newer places.

Austin is the most controlled city in Texas, and far more expensive than the other Texas metros.

Chicago, NY, and LA could be affordable again if they took the shackles off of new residential development. Land is scarce in the cores, of course, so not for single-family homes, but a heck of a lot of new density would get built to reduce rents and condo prices.

 
At 2:59 PM, December 12, 2012, Blogger Michael said...

>>The beauty of no zoning is that there are a ton of apt projects under construction. Supply will catch up with demand, and rents will moderate. Even if the new capacity is all luxury, a domino effect will reduce rents at older places in order to compete with the newer places.

I would argue that with form-based code you would have the same effect.

I would also say that the inner loop areas where people want to live are limited in land area as well, so unless those areas get extended to EaDo etc and Southeast side, then you are basically looking at the Western half of the loop. I think rents are going to keep rising and the only domino effect you will see is rents rising out to the Beltway and beyond as well. Houston did not have a huge supply of multi-family to start with, and we are growing very quickly, and the trend is to move closer to the city - so I think it is going to be difficult to meet demand.

My point is simply that lack of zoning is no better than forms-based zoning as far as supply side goes. And there are negatives in terms of being able to plan for and utilize transit and infrastructure that you can do if you have some zoning.

>>Austin is the most controlled city in Texas, and far more expensive than the other Texas metros.

How are you measuring this? Again Houston rents are increasing and I believe housing prices are increasing faster than Austin, so perhaps our lack of zoning is to blame (kidding!). I'm also worried when we compare Austin metro to Houston metro we aren't really comparing apples to apples in the first place. Austin is still a small town and has a higher proportion of tech workers etc. that can drive up the prices. Houston metro to DFW metro is a better comparison.

Dallas median home price: $150.7k
http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/bplive/2011/snapshots/PL4819000.html
Houston median home price - $150.2 k:
http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/bplive/2011/snapshots/PL4835000.html

The cause for this $500 difference in median price? Obviously Dallas's zoning regime (kidding again).

 
At 3:59 PM, December 12, 2012, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I don't know that we have any data that form-based codes don't increase prices, since they haven't been done on any substantial scale.

Austin median home price = $198k. Much higher. And I also know they are much more controlling, inc. some form-based tendencies (see Austin Contrarian blog). Yes, they have tech workers, but we have a whole lot more energy and med center workers which are just as well paid.

Land is certainly limited in the core of Houston, but there far more than enough to provide a near unlimited supply of high-density apartments and condos. Single family houses will definitely continue to be pricey, but there's always the ability to re-develop low density land to high-density which will moderate apt rents and condo prices.

Dallas does have pretty loose zoning, which keeps their prices down, but they still don't have our massive townhome phenomenon.

Here's my key post on planning:
http://houstonstrategies.blogspot.com/2007/01/planning-panacea-poison-pill-or-just.html

 
At 4:43 PM, December 12, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Austin is still a small town and has a higher proportion of tech workers etc. that can drive up the prices"

No, Austin has a higher proportion of students (and college graduates working as waiters to avoid getting on with their lives) which should tend to depress prices.

Any increased per capita income due to "tech" workers in Austin should be balanced out by all of the jobs in oil/gas in Houston.

 
At 5:09 PM, December 12, 2012, Blogger Michael said...

>>No, Austin has a higher proportion of students (and college graduates working as waiters to avoid getting on with their lives) which should tend to depress prices.

According to CNN Austin median income is: $65.5k
http://money.cnn.com/magazines/moneymag/bplive/2011/snapshots/PL4805000.html

Houston family median income is $48k.

So based on this, Houston housing costs 3.13 times the average local median income. Austin housing costs 3.04 times the average median income.

So Austin is actually more affordable than Houston using these statistics.

 
At 11:36 AM, December 13, 2012, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Michael,

First, CNN is not a good source for these types of stats and shouldn't be used when there are better ones available.

The Census Bureau (http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/48/4835000.html) shows the following median household incomes for 2007-2011:
-Austin: $51,596
-Houston: $44,124
Still slightly higher for Houston, but definitely not upper 60s for Austin.

Incidentally, this census data also has median home prices:
-Austin: $209,900
-Houston: $124,400
So using this data, the ratio of house price to median household income is:
-Austin: 4.07
-Houston: 2.82
So obviously Austin does not have more affordable housing than Houston, and this conforms with everything we know about these two cities.


Second and more importantly, cities are not housing markets. Metro areas are. People can drive a few extra miles to get the house they want (or that they can afford).

For metro areas, the following per capita income information is available for 2011 (http://www.bea.gov/newsreleases/regional/lapi/2012/pdf/lapi1112.pdf):
-Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos: $40,455
-Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown: $47,612

So the Houston metro area has higher incomes than the Austin metro area.

What about median house prices?
Blanco: $165,500
Lee: $111,800
Llano: $159,800
Mason: $152,700
Travis: $210,500

Austin: $152,600
Brazoria: $143,900
Chambers: $148,200
Fort Bend: $175,100
Galveston: $144,700
Harris: $132,300
Liberty: $83,500
Montgomery: $161,700
San Jacinto: $81,000
Waller: $128,500

The thing that really jumps out when you look at the county-level data is that Travis County is much more expensive than the other counties in that metro. On the other hand, Harris County is pretty much in the middle of the pack and towards the low side. Fort Bend and Montgomery have the most expensive housing. Travis County, as a result of its zoning, has the most restrictions on existing and new housing. Fort Bend and Montgomery contain communities with very strict deed restrictions, with a similar effect on housing prices.

 
At 11:49 AM, December 13, 2012, Anonymous Paul Darrow said...

The use of social media by police to capture those thought of committing crimes is an amazement to me. The new rule of thumb is "If you commit a crime, do not talk about it on Facebook, twitter, pinterest, youtube, or any other social media platform".

 
At 11:16 AM, December 14, 2012, Blogger Michael said...

Anon,

To respond to your second point first:
"Second and more importantly, cities are not housing markets. Metro areas are. People can drive a few extra miles to get the house they want (or that they can afford)."

I wholeheartedly agree that in general metro areas provide for better comparisons than cities for a whole host of issues. However in this particular case, we are comparing the effect of zoning on housing prices in the *city boundaries* of Austin and Houston. What is going on in Round Rock and Katy, for the purposes of this comparison, is moot. There are no zoning laws, or different zoning laws, in all of these suburban localities - so they are basically irrelevant to our discussion. You can say that the people of Austin metro have less choice to live in Austin proper because it is more expensive, but that is just as likely to be because of the higher salaries of the residents of the city of Austin than their Houston counterparts, as it is to do with any restrictions on development.

Now for your first point:
>>First, CNN is not a good source for these types of stats and shouldn't be used when there are better ones available.

I agree that going directly to a government source for these statistics would be better than going to CNN, but I would assume CNN has reliable statistics lacking some argument to the contrary. And back to the second point, all of the other statistics you are looking at are for metro areas or for county data. Of course Harris County is not equivalent to the city of Houston, nor is Travis County equal to Austin.

The best comparison here would be the salaries of the residents of the city of Austin versus the housing prices in that city, versus the comparable data from the city of Houston. So far I believe the data I have shown is closer to that, and I will await better numbers from you showing Austin to be more expensive by this metric.

Just because we all have been told that Austin is more expensive than Houston 1 million times does not mean that Austin is less affordable for people with the skill sets / careers that choose to live there. (Nor does it necessarily mean that Austin is more expensive without factoring in affordability, but the data does at least bear that out).

 

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