Sunday, July 19, 2020

Misleading poverty stats, what $250k buys you, density and transit vs. Covid, great HTX murals

A new piece is out examining Houston's increase in high-poverty neighborhoods (Chronicle coverage here - hat tip to Charles).  This kind of analysis has always rubbed me the wrong way, because it rewards cities that tighten housing supply and force gentrification and displacement – pushing people out so their “high-poverty neighborhoods” decline.  It's a game of hot potato with low-income populations. I like that Houston allows plenty of new supply (almost always at the higher end) so older housing can become affordable (like the “newly poor” and “deepening poverty” neighborhoods in their analysis) - with the prime example being middle-class apartments built during the 70s oil boom that are affordable immigrant housing today – that’s great! Houston always allows even the poorest to come here seeking opportunity rather than blocking them out thru restrictive housing policy.

And their point about rich neighborhoods being next to poor ones is also great! That means there is affordable housing near the jobs (esp. service jobs). Every major job center in Houston has affordable neighborhoods within a 15-minute transit ride.  A lot of cities can’t say that.  I would say it’s a better model than Dallas, where poverty is concentrated on the south side while wealth is concentrated on the north side, so the south side has very limited access to opportunity.

What this report labels “turned around” neighborhoods would be labeled as “gentrified” in a lot of other reports, and while I’m glad Houston has had a few turnarounds, I’m also glad we don’t have too many because I think that would be an unhealthy sign of too much gentrification because of lack of housing supply in the neighborhoods people want to move to.

What we need is not geographic analysis, but generational cohorts analysis over time: do poor families that move to Houston do better in the 2nd and 3rd generations? I think they do, but data is hard to come by.

Moving on to a few other smaller items this week:

Finally, a good short excerpt from my radio show with Bill King on the impact of coronavirus fear on transit.

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Sunday, July 05, 2020

Better understanding what makes Houston special

Just a few short items this week mostly around a common theme of what makes Houston special:
"I love the ugliness of Houston, but I know that’s far from all this city is. I can’t wait to get to know the community that has already felt welcoming and warm and to experience the food, music, museums, parks and more. Houston is far, far more than its outward appearance. 
Until then, I’ll appreciate the comforting ugliness and continue my mission of trying all the take-out I can. Houston already has the best food in Texas, hands down."
"In Houston, African Americans enjoy high political representation, homeownership, historically black universities and several black newspapers – all of which empower the community, Conyers said. 
“If people can negotiate and communicate, they don’t need protests,” he said. 
Stein agreed that leadership in Houston has played an important role – and not just in city government. 
“The black leadership in these communities tends to be church-centric, very much built into the churches. That’s not what you see in the North and Northeast,” he said. “And the second is, it’s an older population… and to a large extent, these are people who followed Dr. King’s nonviolence.” 
Stein also credits less racial segregation than in other cities and its low density as factors that help keep Houston relatively peaceful in times of social unrest."
"The article is right, Houston isn't about the city, it's about the people. What most people outside of Houston don't understand is what that means. Houston is an attitude, a drive, a motive. Houston thinks forward, never back. The most generous, open people you will ever meet. Houston is not a destination, it's a journey."
  • WSJ: The Coming Urban Exodus - Failing progressive governance is making daily life too chaotic and stressful in many U.S. cities.  A warning for Houston, where we're already seeing population shifting out of the city and county.
  • Scott Beyer, Market Urbanist: Three Ways the Government Blocks Urban Density - Limits on height, floor-area ratio, and dwelling units per acre have tremendous societal costs. Luckily Houston has very few of these. Excerpt: 
"All these rules and more strip creativity and artistic flair from the city development process. Ultimately they raise rents preventing our cities from densifying, robbing the nation of wealth, productivity, and the opportunity for more people to live in economically vibrant urban settings. They’re perhaps the costliest regulations we have in the U.S., and, at least to me, make for our biggest domestic policy mistake."

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