Comment of the Day: Neighborhood Upgrades

COMMENT OF THE DAY: NEIGHBORHOOD UPGRADES “. . . right now we have policies that are actively working to get rid of our affordable housing in Montrose (and other places as you point out). They’re just disguised as ‘registration’ and ‘certification’ to make sure places are ‘safe.’ That whole process should be scrapped. If someone has a run-down property people will either 1) not live in it, or 2) decide to live in it because the rent is conducive to the building quality. A ‘smart’ property owner might decide to upgrade the place to raise up the rents, whereas another owner may want to keep his place basic and get lower rents. Renters will decide where they want to go. It’s not the government’s right to force someone to pay more rent because they don’t feel something is at a given level. I’ve said it here before: Almost every building we’ve upgraded and raised the rent on gave us new tenants simply because the previous tenants couldn’t afford it. So who really benefited by our upgrades? Most of our upgrades were done by us outside of government interference (we don’t need to be told to fix things that are obviously not right about the property, our renters, banks, insurance company, etc. do a good job at that) but there have been plenty of times where we’ve done things per city demand that have raised rents and driven current tenants out. I’m sure they’re really stoked that our hand rails in Montrose are now 36″ high vs. 32″ while they now are living in 5th ward rather than the neighborhood they loved and were priced out of . . .” [Cody, commenting on Comment of the Day: Saving Houston for the Next Generation of Newcomers]

27 Comment

  • Welcome to “Mayorland.”

  • You are correct, Cody, but at the end of the day the powers that be want it that way.
    If one is paying $3,500 a month mortgage, one doesn’t want someone living for $600 a month just a street over, plus their affordable abode is just a boat anchor for one’s property prices that one is eager to cut lose.

  • Cody, the real reason for rules like these is to keep property values up and growing so the city keeps its tax base up. The concern for the renter is to get backing for the rules to exist.

  • Yes, but don’t make your property too good, cause for some reason, replacing a rental property with another rental property that is denser (taller) will make the other owners properties plummet, like fall immediately and irrevocably. They will understandably be unhappy and sue you for disrupting the sunlight that shines on their trees which provide shade to their backyard.

  • Who in the heck are these property owners who are *trying* to “get lower rents?” Why didn’t I know any of those when I was living in a ghetto rental back in the day? We can debate the merits of 36″ hand rails versus 32″ hand rails but seriously, I don’t believe for a second that there are landlords who go out of their way to keep their rents low in hot real estate markets. We’ve got a ton of apartment buildings in this town wallowing in ghetto squalor owned by slumlords who are just trying to do as little as possible while getting as much as they can out of their tenets, which is why these rules exist and should be enforced.

  • The City isn’t telling people to install granite counter tops and carpet. The City rules have to do with safety. I’m all for safety. We have to have a standard. Unfortunately, Cody’s not the only landlord who would be happy to operate below the minimum standard.

  • There is nothing wrong with a neiborhood trying to set standards. The fact is, most poeple prefer to live with “their own kind”. It is a part of human nature. If I buy a nice home, I would also want the other home to be nice, and for the people with live in the area to be nice too. Whatever it takes to keep the “flop houses” out of nice neiborhoods, I’m all for it!

  • I’d encourage everyone to get out to Gulfton or Westwood, or other low income areas to see the real reason for these regulations. Older apartments in Montrose are usually fairly well kept – because they cater to students and educated, upwardly mobile 20 and 30 something’s who demand a certain level of quality. (I know because until 2003 I was one of them). Even the shabbiest Montrose apartment at some level could be considered “shabby chic.”
    It’s not like that everywhere. I walked the Bissonnet Gardens next door to Sharpstown High School before it was bulldozed, and it was far worse than anything I’d ever seen in Montrose. We’re talking leaky air conditioners and mold out the wazoo; structural issues; abandoned units; units used for storage; electrical problems; dead rodents in the walls; and I don’t even want to mention the fire hazards. And the really crazy thing is, compared to the adjacent Le Promenade condos and the nearby Houston Westlake (formerly Kingsgate Village) apartments – the Bissonnet Gardens was in good shape! Nobody should have to live in places like this – but people do!
    I know it’s got to be frustrating for the owner of a building in Montrose to have his property repeatedly red tagged when all it really needs is a coat of paint. But let’s be honest about why we have rules for habitability in apartments. It’s not to push poor people out of Montrose – (the free market’s doing a fine job of that by itself). It’s because habitability in older apartments really is a problem here.

  • Evil regulations coming between a man and his God-given right to earn money. For shame.

  • Railing height is a safety issue. If when rehabing a property the landlord doesn’t do these upgrades, they would be liable for any accidents. When building our house, deck railings were required to be that height for a reason.

  • Though I agree it’s lamented that artists, students, elderly etc are being forced from The Montrose, it must be said in defense of Houston that the city is still one of the most affordable major cities in the nation. Houston was so cheap for so long and now the rents are going up so quickly people are stunned, it’s completely understandable, however with the Houston economy powering the nation and people coming here in mass numbers and fuel prices skyrocketing you have to expect demand to increase especially in the Loop. Houston is hardly San Francisco or Boston, Houstonians still get more bang for their housing buck than in 90 percent of major cities, try finding an affordable apartment in NYC

  • A good while after The Spur was de-ghetto’d and re-shiny’d, there was a guy grinding away on a perfectly fine looking *ground level* railing, messing up the new paint. Next day there was a longer section of railing welded to the original, heroically protecting people from falling onto the ground they were already standing on. So that’s probably why Cody rants on rails.

    On a completely separate note, and directed at no one in particular, here is the unofficial Swamplot spelling list for the day:

    – neighborhood

    – tenant

    That is all.

  • Railing heights are a safety issue, PERIOD! You have the same requirements for patios, decks, balconies and stairs… Per City of Houston building code amendments, railings are required for any change in elevation above 18 inches. This is for single family residences or multi-family…

    I know a lot of people have problems with code requirements. However, they really are there to protect people. Fire exit signs, smoke detection systems, sprinklers, railings, etc… I mean what if this was India and we had a building collapse.

    Would you support code requirements then?

  • @11, Alec:

    No one bothers to proofread anymore, me included.

    Auto correct does not help.

  • Its all fine and well that there should be building codes and code enforcement, however having inspected crappy apartment complexes all over town in the course of business, I have to echo Cody and ZAW’s concerns. There are a handful of really bad Montrose properties, but they are proportionately insignificant in the broader scope of things.

    It does seem that enforcement is selective and inequitable from one neighborhood to the next. And while I do understand that enforcement is largely complaint-driven, that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, clearly public resources are not allocated optimally under that operational model. There is room for improvement; however, I do not suspect that the powers that be perceive the problem that I perceive.

  • ZAW, maybe the CoH should focus on those nuisance properties in Gulfton instead of ones needing a new coat of paint then.

    “We have to red tag the hell out of Montrose because Gulfton is horrible” doesn’t make much sense.

  • @shannon pet peeve, but Montrose is just Montrose, there is no definite article preceding the name. The Heights, yes; The Montrose, no, never, stop please.

  • zaw, you are right on. the properties in montrose tend to take care of themselves because the market makes it so. and you are right that there is a large need for help to fix up true slums in ++other++ areas. so why is the city sooooo active in montrose when it comes to red tags and enforcement for the smallest of issues when other areas are left to rot? why don’t you see all the inspectors in those areas that actually have run down apartments?
    cody wouldnt say this but he has helped our group by working with many older smaller property owners to help them with their own red tag issues so they can keep their property. these are the places targeted by the city to hassle till they sell. many of them do sell unless they have the means and the knowledge to comply. and when they sell the supply of affordable property gets even smaller.

  • anse, no owner is trying to keep rents low, but there are a lot of smaller owners that have had their properties for a long time iwth happy tenants that have lived there for many yeras. these people ++are++ being targeted.
    if the city drives all the low rent options out by causing them to sell, where are all the people that made montrose what it is today going to go?
    if the city wants to help fight slumloards we are for it. there are many of them all over the city, yet montrose gets the bulk of city inspector attention because they want these older places gone so new places can be built.
    new places will be built on their own we dont need the city also helping to drive people away.

  • There is also likely a compliance issue with what neighborhoods get targeted. What leverage does the City have or what is the City going to get out of a slumlord (‘boo hoo, please don’t foreclose on my $15k value lot with three shacks on it’) v. what it’ll get out of someone who owns a decent place in Montrose? The City would have to work a lot harder in the former area than in the latter for less reward. It’s the same reason you’ll never see a bum get a ticket for littering—what are they going to do, pay it? With what money?

  • I own a fourplex in Montrose, my lot is 6,875 sq ft and was valued at $343,750.
    My neighbor(single family) lot is all so 6,875 sq ft and was valued at $262,500.
    The same size lot, but the fourplex, had a lot value $81,250. greater or $2,031 in Taxes.
    The fourplex is in a deed restricted neighborhood, this is the first year that the city
    started to charge (code 4209 apartmment Struct 4-20) a higher rate.

  • I wonder…

    There is a clear distinction in the quantity and quality of enforcement between neighborhoods. These neighborhoods have different characteristics with respect to race and ethnicity.

    Is there a property owner or some other entity out there that has the standing and the balls to make an issue of discrimination? Seems like it might be good fodder for the Supreme Court.

  • TheNiche: I have properties in and out of Montrose. My stuff out of MOntrose has flaws (that we’re working on of course) that would get me red tagged in SECONDS if they were in Montrose.
    Properties of ours that are in predominantly black areas are left alone. Even our best properties in Montrose that you’d be hard pressed to find a flaw will get tagged all day long. Like I said on another post, I got a $11k fine on one of my fav properties. A nice vintage 4plex that we’ve replaced all the windows, added central air, replaced the roof, upgraded the units, etc.
    The fees, fines, and red tags have become so absurd that all you can do is laugh. I mean, you can’t fight it. I’ve tried. The only thing I do to stay sane is understand that other people in Montrose getting the same tags are what allow me to get several of the properties I’ve bought (when they finally give up)

  • There has to be a civil rights angle. Either the codes are in the public’s interest and African Americans are being discriminated against by not receiving adequate code enforcement in their neighborhoods; or the codes are not in the public interest and exist or are enforced in a manner that reveals the systematic exclusion of African Americans from a municipal political process.

    I’m serious about this. You should talk to an organization like the ACLU or the Southern Poverty Law Center.

  • I agree that there is a civil rights angle here, but I think the SPLC is too busy trying to link Dzhokar Tsarnaev to the Tea Party to be of use.

    The Institute for Justice is a great public-interest law firm which represents a lot of small business owners in civil/constitutional rights cases. They got Louisiana’s insane florist exam eliminated, for example.

  • TheNiche: The problem is I don’t care for either of those groups. Often their solution is more goverment.
    I don’t want to try to solve the imbalance of government force in one area by increasing it in another.
    That said, if the city insists on having 100 prius cars driving around, they should go where the actual problems are. Montrose can take care of itself as there is an economic incentive that doesn’t exist in these poorer areas.
    But even the properties we buy in poorer areas, if the city was as ‘active’ as they are in Montrose we wouldn’t bother to buy and fix them up as the city would make it too burdensome to do so. Creating the opposite effect to what they’re trying to do.
    It would be nice if the city reached out to investors who were buying and fixing up places to get their input rather than lumping us all in with the actual ‘bad guys’

  • Had I known that it would be so difficult to find affordable housing here in a decent area, I would have stayed in New York City. At least there you have public transportation that isn’t atrocious.

    Had I also known all the pretentious snobs are pushing people out of a once awesome neighborhood, I would have definitely stayed away. The inner loop and it’s eclectic charm are giving way to stuck up snobs, who don’t want to *GASP* live next to someone paying less than they are for rent. Must be nice to dehumanize your fellow hardworking human being who wants a decent neighborhood to live in, too. I don’t care how much money you have, attitudes like that make you scum. Good bye, Houston. I’m out of here… And by the way, Get the hell over yourselves. You aren’t that damn important, seriously.