Monday, September 21, 2015

The big picture on Houston's growth and housing market


Zillow's Housing Roadmap to 2016 has been touring various cities across America, and it stopped in Houston last week were I served on a panel discussing housing trends and policy in Houston.  I had a great time, and the Chronicle summarized us here and the tweet stream is here (my favorite one ;-)

Raj had a fantastic idea of using church parking lots to develop affordable housing projects in gentrifying neighborhoods, since churches have a stake in maintaining neighborhoods through gentrification and aren't necessarily trying to absolutely maximize the value of their land.  As long as they get the parking they need on Sunday mornings (probably in a garage that goes with the project), they should be happy to get more value out of the land while also preserving neighborhood affordability.  Raj had another great idea that we should be slowly reducing Houston's minimum parking requirements for projects - especially in the urban core - as more people use services like Uber, transit, biking, and walking to get around, and with a the big flip to driverless vehicles coming in the 2020s with an attendant dramatic drop in the need for parking.  We can begin that transition now and start re-purposing a lot of that parking land.  I've always been an advocate of letting the free market sort out parking rather than having it imposed by the City - this is a good time to start that process incrementally.

I also got to meet the CEO of Neighborhood Centers, Angela Blanchard, and came away very impressed. They're doing amazing things with upward opportunity in our poorest neighborhoods using an innovative approach, and recently got a fantastic profile in the NY Times.

To clarify some of my quotes in the Chronicle, what I said is that we might see more employers set up along the Beltway 8 ring so they can bring in both family employees from the suburbs and singles from the urban core with reasonable commutes. Look at what Exxon has done south of The Woodlands, although they biased more towards the family employees, which are the significant majority of their workforce. As far as the Grand Parkway being the last ring we'll need for a few decades, remember that the area of a circle is pi * r^2. As that radius increases, each additional mile adds a *lot* more land area. The Grand Parkway will be 170 miles long - almost here to San Antonio! Assume development 5 miles on either side of it, 170 x (5+5) = 1,700 sq. miles, at 3,000 people per mile is 5.1 *million* people being accommodated out there, which is almost a doubling of what we have now in the metro (6.5 million) and definitely a few decades of our growth

As part of the tour, Zillow has published a lot of good analysis of the Houston housing market you can find here with some additional overview stats here.  Here are some of my favorite excerpts from the research:
Overall a great set of conversations, and my hat's off to all the great people I met, especially those working on the constant struggle of providing good affordable housing to our disadvantaged populations.

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