Comment of the Day: Welcoming Houston’s New High-Density Overlords

COMMENT OF THE DAY: WELCOMING HOUSTON’S NEW HIGH-DENSITY OVERLORDS Townhome Holdout“Why should the image of a small, single-family home surrounded by townhouses be frightening? This image is a symbol of the fact that Houston is the city with perhaps the single fastest ability to adapt to changing housing demand. This kind of densification is why a lot more people can afford to live close to jobs and recreation, rather than being forced into the suburbs. This picture is a sign of a vibrant, thriving neighborhood, and fills me with hope for the future.” [Angostura, commenting on Getting Ready for What 2016 Has in Store for Houston] Illustration: Lulu

19 Comment

  • Last week, while riding my bike through all of the new high density construction, I realized what’s going on. They are building housing for people who haven’t figured out how to live in Houston yet. They think they want walkability and density and all that, but soon they will learn that all they really need is a couple of SUVs and room for all those mattresses.

  • What makes it vibrant? What makes it thriving? It is undoubtedly populated by people in the 25-35yr range who bought new overpriced poorly built townhomes in an area with little infrastructure who will be paying mortgages no longer buoyed by high paying jobs and positive trajectory in the oil and gas industry. Their end goal is buying a house with a yard but they have overpaid for pitiful 1500 sq ft footprint townhome with no land value. What I see is a flash in the pan and loss of a neighborhood.

  • This kind of densification is precisely what’s forcing people into the suburbs. Living close to work and recreation inside the Loop has never been less affordable than it is now. You cannot touch a new town home inside the Loop for less than a half-mil, and rents under $1,200 are practically non-existent. That picture is far from a sign of hope to me. It’s just another step closer to Houston being one big massive flood plain.

  • @roadchick. You’re neglecting the east side, we’re “in the loop” too.

  • roadchick, if you’re only looking in midtown and west, yep, you are priced out of the inner loop if you can’t afford a $500k townhome.
    you have two choices for inside the loop living, you always have. expensive, or sketchy.
    do you think when midtown was affordable that it was a nice place to live? do you think someone said the same thing about inside the loop living when midtown and montrose and the heights were dumps? “it’s too expensive to live inside the loop!” when what they meant was, it’s too expensive to live in west u, or river oaks.
    and honestly, what you mean to say was “it’s too expensive to live in west u, river oaks, the heights, midtown or montrose (or somewhere you don’t think of as scary).
    yet, I’m living comfortably in my home that compares well with the heights (as far as home stock goes) and costs well under $200k to buy, and best of all, I’m less than 3 miles from downtown.

  • Most people don’t want townhouses but they have to make compromises when the housing stock is loaded with so many of them. What’s so awful about these townhouses is their terribly inefficient use of space that eliminates any room for outdoor space. Most people would sacrifice a 15 foot space between their couch and TV for some semblance of an outdoor space. The tragedy is that lazy developers who don’t want to pay architects to design spaces that people want to live in are creating a city with very little private outdoor spaces available in the housing stock.

    Lastly, yes, you can flee to an undesirable part of town if you have no kids and no plans to have them. The empty nesters aren’t likely to be urban pioneers and the frats that built midtown can’t be expected to prop up every part of the city.

  • The loss of of the greenery and tree canopy you had with the old detached houses is my problem with the whole townhome thing.

  • Faster doesn’t mean better. Houston has been very good at being able to churn out a bunch of junk housing in a very short amount of time to meet the surge of demand with each boom period, but is absolutely terrible at developing any sort of long term planning to have density that will actually work. Instead, we give away acres and acres of prime inner loop land to town home farms and suburban strip malls without any attention to infrastructure or quality of life.

  • @toasty, yes, the east and NE side are still affordable, but that window is closing very fast. EaDo and areas south of that are blowing up fast and what they’re building is far from cheap. Even Acres Home is poised to gentrify. If you own something “affordable” today, your taxes will be outta sight in the next five years, but of course you will also profit when you’re ready to sell.

    I spent the 1990s in Montrose when it was very sketchy. I lived right behind where the HEB on Dunlavy is now. I had to deal with drunks who would congregate in the carports of the old Wilshire apartment complex and listen to HPD choppers circling overhead regularly. Didn’t bother me, but sketchy is not for everybody, especially families. We can’t all be urban pioneers.

  • I’m pro-densification because it gives more people an opportunity to own homes/live in the heart of the city. Living in the Inner Loop doesn’t have to be mind-blowingly out of reach. This isn’t NYC. All of my friends and I make $25-60k a year, pay $500-900 per month in rent in the Inner Loop, and don’t live in a shady part of town.

  • @lulu, you’ll get tired of renting when you age out of the 20’s renting demographic. Agree that we need densification but we need smarter designs than a three thousand square foot box perched atop a garage that barely has space to navigate into it.

  • Building higher-density housing focuses population increases away from the suburbs. This is pretty much a tautology. You can’t advocate for an increase in urbanity and then be sad about bland, boring, mediocre-quality house that is more dense. Most new housing is always going to be bland, boring, and mediocre in quality.

  • Affordability in the inner loop means making an investment at this point. The only area of town you can get a home under $150k is in the 5th ward. (That i am aware of) If you are a young couple looking to buy a home this is a smart move. The way my wife and I looked at this, we had a kid tomorrow, we would have 7 years until we really needed to worry about schools. In that 7 years, your investment should go up and you can afford a nice down payment on that suburban home in a good school district. Unfortunately i think a lot of people will be doing this over the next 5-7 years, so market will be flooded.

  • @Clean – I see nothing for sale in the fifth ward except vacant lots or tear downs for around 20k. Are there pockets of housing where you could invite someone and not have them fear for their life driving in? Are you advocating people buy lots and build on them?

  • 7 years? Kids start kindergarten at age 5.

  • Renting is not something everyone “grows out of.” If you’re looking for an Inner Loop or even a 5th Ward townhome/house that’s less than 10 yrs old and around 1,500-2,000 SF, you’ll probably be paying $250-400k on the low end. This is still fairly affordable for most couples, but not usually feasible for single people. That’s why renting or buying a small condo is not a bad idea for people of any age.
    Paying a 30 yr mortgage on top of property taxes on top of home insurance on top of home maintenance fees can be crippling. If you do the math, I think a lot of people would find that renting is the wiser, more financially beneficial choice.

    As for building your own custom home with an architect… it’s possible but you’d have to give up on your dreams of a large and spacious house.

    Here’s a good breakdown of what you can get with a roughly $150k construction budget:
    Land: $20k (assuming you’re in one of the less popular wards)
    Architect fee: $22k
    Contractor fee: $22k
    Construction Materials: $130k

    This will get you a 1 story 700 SF fenced in house with a huge back yard :)

  • Yes, new build townhouses and apartments are often expensive.
    No, restricting supply will not cause housing prices to come down.

  • @commenter7 – the “safe” part of 5th ward is already becoming priced out into the $300-$400k. East of Waco there are some nice brick homes near The Silo, Japhet Creek, and Last Organic Outpost. These may be what you consider tear down homes though, you could probably string a few more years out of it.

    Other areas north of I-10, you can find new construction for cheap. This area is a little riskier but it gets you close to the development off Lyons avenue. I know several Rice grads that are investing in this area now.

    An area will get exponentially safer with more residents and better infrastructure. 5th ward has been losing residents for the last decade. Investors are buying up land like crazy and it will turn around, the difference between this area and the heights/3rd Ward is that there is a ton of open land and abandoned homes. If i had the capital i would have bought land 2 or 3 years ago north of I-10.

  • @clean, interesting. I was just looking at the area north of I-10 which is definitely all tear down homes or lots at 20k. Not up on my wards geography. Anyway, those 115-150k houses would make me super nervous since you will likely have to sit on it until land value reaches purchase price which could be a while given that Houston is hunkering down with low oil prices. It’s hard to put money into improvements for those houses. That’s a gutsy move – hope it pays off.