Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Here’s (NOT) the Real Reason Houston Is Going Broke

Strong Towns posted "Here’s the Real Reason Houston Is Going Broke" earlier this month, ironically on April 1st because a lot of what they said was absolutely foolish.  The core of their argument is the same argument Strong Towns always makes: that sprawl is somehow fiscally unsustainable, despite it being the default form of development since Ford made the Model T for the masses with incredibly few municipal bankruptcies over that century+. 

It includes this excerpt:

"That’s 37 feet of street per person, on average. I don’t know the going rate for a foot of street in Houston, but when utilities are included, it must be well into the thousands. That means that part of the wealth of each Houston resident, as collected through taxes and fees by the municipal corporation, is expected to maintain six figures worth of infrastructure. Every single person. A family of four has a generational liability of at least a half million dollars just to maintain essential infrastructure."

This is exactly the kind of hand-waving that makes me lose respect for Strong Towns: somehow 49 yards of asphalt plus a bit of water and sewer pipe is a "half-million dollar liability" for each homeowner instead of easily paid for by 30-50 years of normal property taxes for lifetime replacement?? Somehow it costs more than replacing their entire ~$300k house?? 🤔🙄

And if the suburbs packed full of homes are so uneconomic, then how is every rural county in the country not bankrupt?? They have *way* more infrastructure per person at much lower property values per acre!

The core fiscal problem is not sprawl - it's that it's too tempting for politicians to take money that should be going to infrastructure renewal and siphon it off for other programs, including police and fire raises. Kick the can to the next guy...

All I'm saying is that a bit of asphalt and pipe is a very small expense relative to the cost of building an entire house, and it is definitely affordable to replace it every 30-50 years. Whether politicians manage the taxes properly to do so is another issue...

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At 8:38 AM, April 26, 2024, Blogger George Rogers said...

And what's more hilarious is their only valid complaint, is a non issue in Houston. Due to lack of zoning, Houston can gradually increase density over time when it makes sense to do so.

At 1:11 PM, April 30, 2024, Blogger TheCastle said...

The other point to make is. If suburbs are "unsustainable" whatever that means? (I mean really anything for a long enough period of time is unsustainable, and a short enough period sustainable). Then how come Houston has the most affordable housing of any large metro in America.

With the explosion in taxable values / property taxes the city has no excuse for why its in finical trouble other than it has a spending problem. My taxes are going up 11% a year, along with insurance. Way faster than the rate of inflation. Every time I see a "tax cut" its really not a cut, so much as a tax increase reduction.

Kill metro, balance the budget.


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