The State of Texas’s Bridges; A Drone’s-Eye View of Houston


Photo of the Johnny Steele Dog Park: Brandi Lynn via Swamplot Flickr Pool


32 Comment

  • Pretty funny that they’re still using Ike hurricane funds to build govt housing projects. Nobody wants them except the bureaucrats, non-profits and the people wanting to live somewhere where they can’t afford to otherwise.

  • The dummies at HCC ought to spend a little more money on professional consultants next time before they make more bonehead decisions and waste more millions of tax money.

  • The situation at HCC is flabbergasting. The people running it must be rank amateurs, and that is the kindest interpretation.

  • I love how the Briargrove folks say their complaints are not NIMBY complaints; they just don’t want more kids at their school, they are afraid of increased congestion in their area and the “potential” for decreased values of their homes.

  • That is a fantastic area for affordable housing due to the density of job opportunities in the area.

  • After reading that HCC article and accompanying map graphic, it is truly sad that HCC cannot get it together on a relatively simple project. I happen to have a lot of goodwill toward HCC: very affordable tuition for college basics which cuts down on student debt. A great recipe.
    Were all of the other successful campus launches just pure luck? If someone was responsible for those successes, hire them for this project. Just saying.

  • Yeah, no matter what,, if anyone has the gall to question a low income housing project, they are automatically a NIMBY at best, and probably a racist too. Right Kevpat?
    The neighbors were right to be concerned about school overcrowding. (Granted they should be protesting HISD as loudly as they’re protesting the housing plans). Briargrove Elementary is the school that actually turned kids away on the first day of school in 2015. I’m still trying to figure out why nobody at the school or HISD’s central admin was arrested for doing that….

  • all those people opposing the affordable housing because the schools are overcrowded and not because they don’t want different socioeconomic people living in their neighborhood. The lie is so transparent. where was the outrage when all those high rise apartments went up? Traffic surely was impacted, surely there are at least 60 kids that live in those things.
    It’s absolutely disgusting and I’m glad I can say I will never live somewhere with neighbors like those.
    They likely have the same feelings for me, so whatever.

  • @ZAW, You are absolutely right on both points, you are being much more direct that I was.

  • I will come out and say it unashamedly, I wouldn’t want “those” people in my neighborhood and my schools either. I grew up in the hood, went to Sharpsrown high, went to UofH, started a business and took huge risks, never saw any of that White Privilege I was promised and now live in Piney Point. One of the driving forces in my life was the desire to rise above those people, get away from them and their boat anchor ways of thinking. If you want to live in my neighborhood, EARN YOUR WAY IN, don’t use my tax dollars for your shortcut.

  • @Kevpat: I was being sarcastic.
    @ Toasty: I guess we should respect the people in Sugar Land who protested luxury apartments? It was for the same reasons that the folks in Briargrove are protesting the low income housing: traffic and school overcrowding. They would have protested low income housing too, on the same grounds.
    The idea that all who oppose low income housing are automatically prejudiced against the poor, has to stop. I’m not denying that there are some who are prejudiced. But there are very real concerns, too. Worrying about overcrowding at a school, is perfectly understandable when kids friends were turned away from the school due to overcrowding.

  • Re: HCC land deals

    I have a feeling that if someone were to dig very deeply, they would unearth some very profitable results from these land swap deals. Of course, not profitable for HCC – but profitable for the engineering firms, real estate firms, planning commissions, research study companies, etc. – all of which are connected to HCC’s board and their business ties, past and present.

    I hate to compare reality to TV, but it is uncanny how much this reminds me of the back door real estate transactions that funded the crookery in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. Public land transactions are one of the oldest and most prevalent forms of government fraud and corruption.

  • As an area resident, I would have complained about the new market rate apartments too but there’s no way to stop them. I’m worried now that my neighborhood may be carved out of the Briargrove Elementary attendance zone even though I paid a premium for my house because of its current zoning. That being said, I believe the vast majority of the market rate units will be occupied by young professionals and empty nesters. The HHA project is specifically marketed to families intending to send their children to BGE.

  • Commonsense is correct. If you want to live in a nice neighborhood you need to earn your way in. Don’t give me any of that “But who will work in the restaurants” crap either, that’s not my problem. If I need to pay a little more to eat in a nice neighborhood then so be it. This is more BS socialism from community organizer corrupt politicians like Obama. We’ve had enough of that crap. If you want to live in socialism go to Venezueala. I’m sure I’ll get called a racist and no telling what else for stating the truth, I don’t care it’s time to start calling socialists on their BS. At least there is one Democrat that isn’t a liar like the rest of them and will admit he’s a socialist. Bern at least doesn’t lie about it.

  • Affordable housing policy is so damned sloppy. I have many beefs with it but I know that clearer more consistent policies are politically untenable…because people from all walks of life are assholes. Still, here is my opinion on the situation that exists:

    There is in fact no shortage of the stuff in Texas. Its very easy to find cheap housing within a reasonable distance of any employment center; and that housing has high vacancy and is cheap because it sucks. For whatever combination of reasons, it sucks… Therefore I believe it reasonable to conclude that the only conceivable purpose of having anything that is ostensibly an affordable housing policy (if there is to be a reason) is to provide subsidized housing that does not suck. It is a program to address quality, not merely location or quantity or price.

    Okay, so how then? What needs to be fixed so that housing does not suck? Well, there is basic stuff to start with. Health and safety. (Our affordable housing programs usually go considerably further than just that, which I think is perhaps wasteful, but okay thats to be expected to some extent. Be that as it may.) But what if the socioeconomic composition of schools leads to poor social and educational outcomes with ramifications that extend to the realm of “health and safety?” What if the demographic integration of public schools creates a net positive? Well then you add that option to the affordable housing portfolio. Thats what you do.

    Yeah sure, there will be people that complain about this. Such people adhere to the fallacy that the public schools to which their homes are currently zoned are “owned” somehow. Those schools are in “their” neighborhood, which they paid to gain access to. But those schools are NOT their private schools. Public schools are the public domain. They are chartered by the State government and financed from federal, state, and local tax revenues, and are tax exempt. They offer a public good and are subject to public administration and regulation, hence the description of them as PUBLIC SCHOOLS.

    If you’re the sort of person that is complaining that students from subsidized families should be ejected from subsidized public institutions which are “ours” and are subsidized and are what they are because “we” worked very hard to become creditworthy enough to afford subsidized mortgages…well if you want private schools then you need to pay for private schools. You didn’t do that just from having bought your home. Look at the deed to your house and the CCRs if any. Look at the land survey. Did you buy rights to any one public school facility? No. You did not. Did you buy into a neighborhood and community with deed retrictions that extend into perpetuity? No. You did not. Did you band together with your neighbors and declare sovereign independence from the United States? No. I guess you could still try and do that and I would find it amusing to see how it all played out. But for now, the only legal guarantee that you have is that you will have access to a public school; that guarantee is ubiquitous, and if that was your motivation in buying what you did and where you did then you most likely overpaid for it.

    Now that said…I tend to lean libertarian by nature although I’m no card-carrying member of the Party (or any Party). When I see these claims that I deserve something because I bought it and its my property, please understand that I am not unsympathetic to that appeal. Property rights ARE important. The distinction here is that you want special public rights that other people don’t have…because you are rich. Its the other side of the same debased and tarnished coin to which you are ostensibly opposed. I find that position contorted and surreal.

  • Over a thousand bridges structurally deficient – but don’t worry according to the Chron – they represent only 2 percent of bridges in the state. I wonder how many people a day these structurally deficient (meaning they are in need of repair) carry daily.

  • @JGriff and @commonsense, I can’t tell which one of you is the bigger caricature.

  • Folks need to remember that HHA is under great pressure from the housing “advocates” and the recent Supreme Court ruling. They are desperately trying to avoid being tied up in litigation, which the “advocates” will bring if they perceive HHA as using public funds to build affordable housing neighborhoods with “concentration of poverty,” “concentration of traditionally disadvantaged populations” (i.e., African-Americans and Hispanic Americans), and “low opportunity.” Thus HHA must spend its funds on sites in more expensive areas where the local population is more likely to have the resources and emotion-charged energy to fight you. Hence this proposed project.
    While I am skeptical that the federal government should have any involvement in the housing market whatsoever (including the mortgage interest deduction), Niche’s points should be passed out in every upscale neighborhood where the zoned schools are the primary reason people buy homes – the income profile homogeneity (or more accurately the minimum income level) of the students’ households is not a protected right or even something that should be considered in land use decisions or school zoning, no matter the implications for home values. The burden is, as it should be, utterly upon affluent homeowners to spend their own resources to place their children in schools that fit the income profile they desire. If that means moving their home to a public school zone they think is more likely to maintain the desired profile, then so be it.
    That all said, in this case there does appear to be some legitimacy to the claim that there will be school overcrowding, assuming HISD is trustworthy.

  • Yes, Niche, but the quality of public schools varies widely from neighborhood to neighborhood, and historically the public school that your child attends depends on which neighborhood you live in. Add the importance of Parent Teacher Associations, and parents develop a natural sense of ownership for the school. I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing.
    This is not to say they got the protests right. They -should- be hammering HISD for its failure to grow Briargrove Elementary big enough to meet demand. I had the same complaint about the group opposing apartments in Sugar Land: in both cases the protests should be directed at the school district and its leadership, as much as anyone else.

  • The idea of “earned wealth” does not equate very well with all the very large handouts that wealthy homeowners receive from the state/federal gov’t that only increase such disparities in housing wealth and exacerbate the inequity of our public school system.
    Anyone claiming that this is a very simple issue with no grey area speaks out of ignorance.

  • Excellent point about the HHA, HUD, and the housing “advocates,” Planner.
    But If I’m not mistaken, the SCOTUS ruling (Inclusive Communities v City of Dallas) does leave the door open for development of affordable housing in “low opportunity” areas, so long as the housing is part of a much larger neighborhood revitalization program. So what’s to stop the HHA or any low income housing developer from teaming up with Management Districts and TIRZs, and rolling their housing into revitalization programs already underway by those groups?
    It’s really what they should have been doing all along, after all. Low income housing should never just be thrown up and forgotten in a low opportunity area. But at the same time, forcing it into high opportunity neighborhoods where the neighbors don’t want it just seems like a cop out. It should be an important part of neighborhood revitalization. Remember, HUD is “Housing and Urban Development”, and not just the “US Housing Administration.”

  • @ Local Planner: This can’t possibly be HISD’s first rodeo when it comes to elementary school crowding that results from development. They must either expand the facility, build a new facility, or re-zone. They are competent to accomplish this. They have plenty of facilities to rebalance off of and are surely better-off than smaller districts that have to cope with the same challenges.

    @ ZAW: The traditional set of definitions about school “quality” that most people go by when they’re purchasing a house, I think, rely too heavily on correlation or just traditional heuristics and have some serious validity problems. Even most intelligent and well-meaning people neither have the skill set or care to take the time to do good enough due diligence about PTA group dynamics…or very nearly any other important feature or subfeature of home-buying. (Bear in mind of course that Swamplotters are a narrow and generally exceptional demographic, so don’t take this too personally.) So mostly, I see this manifestation of NIMBYism as concern that the demographic composition might change as nativism and fear of the outsider by people that by and large were outsiders once. It could also be characterized as a fear of change itself. In either case…we are talking about public schools. They are public, so there.

  • @joel Exactly what handouts do “wealthy” homeowners get from the state & federal gov’t? ALL homeowners get mortgage interest deductions on their primary residence, but that’s not a handout – it’s simply income that is not subject to taxation. It allows us to keep more of our hard earned money in our pocket, and it was never the government’s money in the first place. There is a difference. A handout is giving away free or reduced (and also in this case, VERY high dollar) housing to those who would otherwise not be able to afford it.

    @commonsense, @Jgriff +1 on your comments.

    And no, the government shouldn’t be using real estate for social engineering.

  • @TheNiche

    Why should my neighborhood, which has been zoned to Briargrove Elementary since it opened, be carved out in favor of a brand new HUD complex that is geogrphicaly further from the school than my neighborhood? I may not be entitled to send my kids to BGE by my deed but I still say I have a greater claim based on history and the amount of taxes I pay. I’m resigned to the fact that we’ll likely be carved out and I will end up sending the kids to private. Sad but true. The school isn’t going to benefit from excluding single family homes for the benefit of all the new multi-family development.

  • @ ZAW: What you’re describing smacks of mid-twentieth century concepts about “Urban Renewal”. You can’t just modify the built environment in a neighborhood and figure on that resolving structural poverty all by its very self. Or maybe it is possible, but experience would seem to indicate time and time again that such a paradigm will be co-opted by the establishments of both political parties in order to serve their interests, none of which have anything to do with providing economic opportunities for the poor, desegregation, or any other social purpose.

    @ MJ: I tend to agree in principle that government ought not to directly interfere in real estate markets (although I absolutely 100% disagree that tax credits and deductions are not a subsidy, and certainly the GSEs provide a subsidy, and furthermore the very basic notions of title to property and protections thereof are backed by the government’s monopoly on the use of force, so government intervention is in some ways inevitable), but the REALITY is that these affordable housing programs exist as a mandate. They just do. Right now. No amount of NIMBY whining is going to change that, and so at the very least these programs should strive to be 1) effective and 2) equitable.

    @ Bama: Your neighborhood is not yours; you are not its sovereign. It is not a sovereign body unto itself. It is a legal subdivision (which means nothing pertinent in this case) registered within Harris County and the City of Houston, each of which are entities chartered by the State of Texas, one of fifty states comprising the United States. At present, Houston ISD is tasked with the requirement of providing mandatory K-12 education within its geographic boundaries; where it does not exist, other school districts exist which are tasked with the same ubiquitous goal; when one school district fails at that, it may be subsumed by other districts. District boundaries are not guaranteed; school zoning is not guaranteed. It is very common that legal subdivisions are divided between elementary school zones, inside of HISD and outside it. Neither the school district or the municipality or the county where you live are obligated in any way to ensure that George Wallace’s vision of a segregated America should persist into the 21st century or beyond — and in fact, if they should desire to attempt such a thing then they are setting themselves up for unwinnable and wasteful lawsuits that burn through taxpayer dollars in the name of…what exactly? Protecting your taxpayer dollars? This makes no sense whatsoever.

    Furthermore, Briargrove Elementary’s preexisting (traditional) boundaries are insufficiently tight in the first place to prevent multifamily development along Voss, subsidized or otherwise, from impacting the school. The school’s past is the very thing that makes it susceptible to change in the future!

    Yes, you pay a lot of taxes. We know. Again, this is a system that is imperfect in my opinion, but it has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on HISD or on this topic. You are entitled to the very same services from HISD whether you pay taxes on a $1.5 million house in Tanglewood or a $120,000 house in Sharpstown, whether you make use of them or not. If you’re overpaying taxes then protest them, buy the house in Sharpstown and buy your way into private school, seek out a geographic niche that is better-insulated from demographic change, or engage yourself in the political process at a high level. But please, quit it with this nonsensical whining.

  • ZAW, you’re darn tootin’
    and if these people from the galleria area were as against any of the other high density properties that were recently built in the area, then I’d be happy for their consistent approach, but this isn’t that. It’s inconsistent.
    It’s quite silly anyway, cause let’s be honest, looking at the income levels required for entry into this, and percentages, it’s amazing what these people are afraid of. they see the name ‘affordable’ in the title and think of poverty level, hourly wage workers, but those people couldn’t even afford to live here. look at the article:
    “One in five of the Fountain View apartments will have market-rate rents; 10 percent will be subsidized for families earning 30 percent of the area’s median income, currently $69,300 for a family in Houston; the remainder will be available to those earning 60 percent of the median income.”
    10% is going to be subsidized for people earning close to $70 thousand. 20% is going to be market rate for anyone. 70% is going to be for people earning $140 thousand. No one, not even a manager at fast food restaurant can afford this.
    so this does two things, it is a mockery of the term ‘affordable’ housing, and it exposes who the people are that don’t want to live near people who live in subsidized housing.

  • Niche, I’ve been reading your posts for years and you’re obviously an intelligent person. However, I think your arguments on this issue make you sound like a jackass that doesn’t live in the real world. Why shouldn’t I whine about getting rezoned from an acceptable elementary to a substandard school based on a government agency shoehorning a subsidized housing project into my neighborhood? We are involved at a high level attempting to stop this, but according to you and others we’re all assholes for not just accepting our fate. Why shouldn’t a neighborhood be entitled to send its kids to the neighborhood school? Paying more in taxes should result in better schools for the neighborhoods they serve. And I don’t want to send my kids to private school with a bunch of entitled snobs, but I also don’t want to send them to the standard sub-par HISD elementary. Bottom line is that this particular project is a waste of tax dollars and will only diminish the quality of the current elementary school.

  • So Bama, your last line, actually your last phrase, is key as it is one that is heard over and over again in situations of school rezoning or the additional of cheaper housing to an existing school zone. Please clarify, do you think the education quality of those Briargrove residents who remain at BGE after the addition of the HHA project will diminish – that their life prospects will be hurt? And if so, why?
    In other words, is it vital to maintain a higher income demographic profile at a public school to provide a “quality” education to those more affluent students? As far as I know, it may be, or might not be, but most affluent homeowners seem to assume so, and it is often the #1 driver of their real estate decision making and often community activism.

  • I’m with you @Bama. Call me a spoiled, privileged racist NIMBY all you want, but I will continue to oppose this plan, and do what I can to fight it. As a taxpayer who resides in the neighborhood, I absolutely have the right to oppose something like this – particularly because it’s a sick irony: our tax dollars will be used to pay for a project that will in turn have a negative impact our property values. So it’s an all-around bad deal for tax paying property owners.

    @TheNiche I don’t care if it’s a mandate – in my opinion, it shouldn’t be. I simply do not believe the government should use our tax dollars in this manner. It’s my belief that programs like this are FAR beyond the scope of the federal government’s enumerated powers, but I digress… your point that these programs should strive to be 1) effective and 2) equitable, I would argue that you left something off that list it should also be 3) transparent. However, there has been almost zero transparency on this project to date. At least one HISD board member (Harvin Moore) has indicated that HUD has not been in contact with them regarding these plans, hence the issue with school overcrowding. There will be a public meeting on March 9, but the project has made it so far down the road without any scrutiny, we are fighting an uphill battle to stop it.

    Also lost in this whole debate is that, there is indeed affordable housing in the area. There are plenty of apartments in the area. Some are older, but last I checked, having a sparkling pool & granite counters were not a God-given right. I simply don’t think my tax dollars should be subsiding this.

  • @ Bama: good luck trying to get people without kids in public school, to care about the travails of a parent who wants to send their kid to a quality public school in Houston. It should not be as hard as it is to find a good HISD school. As a parent who left HISD and moved to FBISD, I totally understand why you’d fight tooth and nail to try to keep your kid’s spot once you have found a good one.
    @Planner: You’re touching on the continental divide between city officials, and education officials. Public schools have a huge impact on the neighborhoods they’re in, and vice versa. But if you talk to public school officials, their response is “oh, we don’t get involved with the neighborhood,” and if you talk to city officials, they say “oh we don’t get involved in the schools.” It’s really frustrating, to tell the truth. There are synergies at the grass roots level, but it never translates up the chain of command on either side.
    @Niche: I am absolutely not suggesting 1970s style tabula-raza urban renewal. I am suggesting careful reinvestment and revitalization. I fear that this latest push to “move to opportunity” is going to have the unintended consequence of making it even more difficult for poor neighborhoods to get the investment they desperately need.

  • Once again @TheNiche shows himself to be one of the most thoughtful posters on this board. Very well argued. And yeah, as @toasty said, if you guys weren’t out protesting the 300 other high density units that have been built there over the last decade and then decide to step out on this one single project…yeah, it’s totally not a class issue….

  • @ Bama: Let me clear about what I mean about seeking political redress at a high level. That means that you need to be seeking the introduction of politically feasible legislation, advancing a lawsuit with a reasonable shot at success in the Supreme Court (after many years and perhaps after the damage is done), shooting for a constitution amendment, or…staging a revolution. That is your reality. Your reality is bleak.

    @ MJ: Nobody is saying that you haven’t got a right to have or express your opinions; but it doesn’t matter where you live or how much money you make or have or pay in taxes, you have that right guaranteed to you. You needn’t even be a citizen or permanent resident or there on a tourist visa or just there or even there at all to have that right. Its universal.

    Now, like yourself, I happen to agree with you that federal powers have been expanded far FAR beyond what was originally intended or what was intended by any constitutional amendments. The commerce clause has been especially subject to abuse. Practically all programs such as those funding HHA are subject to abuse, with HHA a posterchild itself. There’s probably a lot of stuff that we’d agree about if we were having a more well-rounded discussion. But about this issue, given the laws on the books — if we’re arguing about public school zoning, crowding, and/or quality, I don’t see any path for that. Even to play the devil’s advocate, and I do like to play the devil’s advocate, I don’t see the argument. Its not there. It eats its own tail. (Fundamentally, neither affordable high-quality housing or public schooling is a God-given right. Its all just under the same less-than-holy umbrella of public policy.) Maybe the transparency angle will have some traction. The HHA has to follow the rules laid out for them, no doubt about that.

    @ ZAW: I’m not sure what “careful” means to you. Your suggestion seems superficial, and I know that you know better than to think that you know the solutions or to trust that they would ever be implemented.