Has The Inner Loop Been Ruined by Oligarchs?

HAS THE INNER LOOP BEEN RUINED BY OLIGARCHS? Variance Sign at Kirby Court Apartments, 2700 Block of Steel St., Upper Kirby, Houston“A brutal strain of neoliberalism” and Houston’s disdain for its own history taken to “gothic extremes” have allowed developers to transform Inner Loop Houston from a “bastion for the creative class” to an “exclusive playland for the rich” in a few short years, writes Anis Shivani of Alternet. (The essay was later rebroadcast from the bully-er pulpit of Salon.com.) The nexus of Shivani’s lament is Steel St., the oak-lined Upper Kirby avenue that was once home to the Kirby Court Apartments and is now the site of an upcoming Hanover Company apartment building. Shivani, a poet, critic and fiction writer, sees the transformation of Steel St. (where he lives in a townhouse an apartment) as a microcosm for the changes going on across the Inner Loop, where “unoccupied zombie high-rises which are pure investment vehicles for global investors” are displacing the “artists, writers and eccentrics from around the country [who] descended in droves in the 2000s to take advantage of Houston’s livability.” Today’s Houston is “as unaffordable as Los Angeles or New York,” Shivani says. Among the more prominent events in this transmogrification: Last year’s demise of lively public-private space” Taco Milagro, where the “food was very healthy and people from all over the city danced the night away and congregated on the large patio.” Also, changes to the scenery of Memorial Park, where the “drought had supposedly killed” “oaks that were planted in the 1920s by the city fathers.” Shivani writes: “[In] the blink of an eye, without public discussion, the trees were demolished.” [Alternet; Salon; previously on Swamplot.] Photo: Jessie Wilson

71 Comment

  • Important lesson for descending creative droves: buy, don’t rent.

  • “We’re not homeless, we’re not welfare recipients, we’re the backbone of Houston, tens of thousands of hardworking residents who put the city in the position of promoting itself as a cultural destination in the first place. We ride bikes or walk; we loyally support local establishments; we love our neighborhoods and treasure them, yet we are the ones whose lives are destroyed.”

    “Gentrification is okay until it displaces white people.”

  • Memebag, what do you do when your home valuation makes your property taxes explode beyond your income?

  • The tone of this article is way too ranty…

  • To each is own, to me this looks like area is nicely cleaning up, all the weirdos and freakshows are being moved out to other places and everything is going up in price. The financial value has been an overriding indication of something being better vs. worse for thousands of years, hence this is BETTER.

  • I may be a bear on Houston right now, but this guy’s opinion is hyperbolistic to the extreme. Everything that he says is grossly inaccurate.

  • So basically they are complaining the poor can’t live in an expensive part of town? That is called progress.

  • @dag: Fight the valuation, get more income, become a landlord or sell. But that’s not why people are being forced out of those apartments.

  • Wrapped up in an anti-oligarch diatribe is advocacy of policies that are essentially subsidies for people like the author. As a former New York City resident, I observed first hand that rent control and strict zoning simply privileges existing residents over new residents, and actually drives up the cost of housing for most. You have people with rent controlled 1,000sq ft apartments in the LES for $500 a month, when such apartments now rent at $3,500 a month priced to market. Since rent control simply limits the amount rent can rise for an individual tenant, it is tenants who have been in place for 20+ years who really benefit from the rent control. New tenants must pay market rates initially. The end result is that the neighborhood is only open to old timers and the wealthy. Keeping out new residents is hardly a recipe for preserving a vibrant creative class.

  • If you can’t afford your taxes, then I guess you have to move. I can’t afford to live in River Oaks, but I don’t bitch and whine about it. I can’t afford a high rise condo either.

  • Really? Taco Milagro was a place for artists and the creative people to congregate? Please. Why can’t artists be creative in the burbs? they have to live in the most expensive part of town?

  • drewgriz, you hit the nail on the head!

    I wonder how long the author of this piece has lived in Houston, anyway? The reference to all the creatives “descending in droves” in the 2000s leads me to believe it hasn’t been very long. Having lived in Austin in the late 90s and 2000s, I’m grown very used to people swooping in onto a changing real estate landscape, claiming their comfortable circumstances as their birthright while incurring little real risk, and protesting loudly when the market no longer meets their needs.

  • Someone needs to call a waaambulance for this chap. The “creative class” needs to get more creative about where the affordable housing is. Around me on the East End are lots of affordable housing, to buy or to rent. What this guy really wants is rent-control so that low-income people can live anywhere they want to. What a whack idea.

  • Is this guy really lamenting the demise of Taco Milagro? For the price of 1 taco there you could’ve gotten a full meal at any real taqueria in the barrio. Obviously this guy wasn’t hurting for money.

    I love it when people complain about how their lovely neighborhoods are getting destroyed by developers and property values and taxes are increasing. I guess they don’t realize that some of these taxes are reinvested into the neighborhood to make them even better (schools, infrastructure, etc)

    These are the same people complaining during the recession about how they lost money on paper because the home values plummeted.

  • So the drought was a conspiracy to supposedly kill trees in Memorial Park. Author was not here is 2011 to see the thousands of ‘supposedly dead’ trees standing naked in the sun. Any credibility destroyed.

  • @gisgo I was glad when they did it. Memorial Park is refuge of prostitutes and drug dealers. I tried walking there once. People kept running by me, I presume they were drug runners or pimps. At one point, someone said, “get out of my way old man”. I’m pretty confident that’s code for some sort of drug of sex transaction.

    Anyway, to me, the inner loop is a bastion of liberal elitists who think places like Outback and Olive Garden aren’t authentic international cuisine when they obviously are. — ELITISTS!

  • Have none of these people complaining about how you have to be rich to live in the Inner Loop never gone east of 288 or the Hardy Toll Road?

  • Oh yes, I miss the “very healthy food” of the amazing Taco Milagro. (Note sarcasm.)

  • So why don’t we creatives relocate like the pioneers did and start our own community elsewhere as we have always done. In some places they call it co-houseing…we can co-town instead. There are still areas to be pioneered. Only we might to start a group page as a collective of ilk minded folks .

  • More of the same whining (all too present on this website), claiming utterly falsely that neighborhood evolution = neighborhood destruction. No neighborhood should ever be preserved for a specific class of people, no matter their physical, ethnographic, income or cultural characteristics. When Montrose / Upper Kirby loses its starving artist bohemian population (and I question whether the author of the articles in question actually fell into this category), we’ll all just move on.

    Not to mention the paranoid falsehoods this person was recklessly throwing out there. Unfortunately he’s somehow influential enough to get his things published in relatively high-profile media (or what passes for high-profile anymore). How embarrassing for our city that someone like him claims to be one of our fellow citizens.

  • What an absolute load of horse apples.

    I read the same thing about London a couple months ago. Almost verbatim. Anyways, when average rents for a 1b/1b start going for +4k a month, then and only then can you say Houston is as unaffordable as New York. What a whiny “poet”.

  • @dag: When you’re property valuation goes up so much you can’t afford to pay it you sell and thank god you made such a good investment. Really, that’s a very good problem to have. I’m hoping it will happen to me some day.

  • What moral superiority…just another condescending, liberal bloviator, intent on telling other people what to do with their property.

  • “The financial value has been an overriding indication of something being better vs. worse for thousands of years, hence this is BETTER.”

    If this were true, then the Right Bank in Paris would be “better” than the Left Bank. The Upper East Side of Manhattan would be “better” than Greenwich Village. Downtown New Orleans (the old American Quarter) would be “better” than the French Quarter. Some dull rich neighborhood you never heard of in Rome would be “better” than the Campo Marzio.

    Of course, none of those places are “better” to anyone except the people who live there.

  • This guy squandered an important opportunity to do some real journalism on the rapidly growing issue of affordable housing in Houston in order to put together a grotesquely inaccurate screed about development in Houston. I would normally be with this guy 100%. But he is inventing too much about Houston to be taken seriously. A sampling of his inaccuracies:
    -There are no 100 year old live oaks on Steel Street. That land was empty pasture before the apartments were built in 1949. Those live oaks are probably about 60-70 years old. They grow very quickly.
    -There was no great influx of artists to Montrose in the 2000s. If anything, gentrification was well underway in Montrose and the creative class was already getting priced out of the neighborhood by that point.
    -Houston rents are getting expensive, but they are no where even close to being comparable to NY.
    -2727 Kirby hit the market at the wrong time, but it did eventually fill up. It is not “largely empty”. Gables River Oaks is the brand new second phase of the West Ave development. It has never changed names and is not empty.
    -The trees in memorial park were dead and dying after the 2011 drought. I could hear loud crashes of branches calving off of dying trees during morning runs at the park after the drought. I saw them clear out the dead and dying trees. I never saw a tree go down that had a single green leaf or needle. There is nothing commercial about the redevelopment plans for the park.
    -Taco Milagro was replaced by a farm to table sandwich shop that is arguably way more progressive in its approach to food. The open space is still there. It just has tables and is much more family friendly than the boozy impromptu salsa nights at Taco Milagro.
    -The apartments on Steel Street are not historic. There is nothing of any interest or importance about the architecture. It It is insulting to those of us who have fought for the preservation of historic properties in Houston for this guy to claim that his building should be protected.
    But the worst part of the article is that it gives the impression that all is shit in Houston. It dismisses the upgrades along buffalo bayou because a lot of invasive plants were cleared out in the process and does not mention that the trail system will be better than ever and that there will be more useful public spaces instead of fire ant infested fields of nothing. He does not mention the proliferation of new independent coffee shops and restaurants all through Montrose and the Heights. And he does not mention the fact that the majority of Houstonians benefit from the economic conditions that caused the inner loop gentrification.

  • the author claims that this location is “the single most desirable location in Houston” yet wants it to remain super cheaper and low density. Someone didn’t take economics in college . . . .

  • That is by far the most warped sense of entitlement I have seen in some time. Of course we want affordable housing, but along aain corridor like Kirby with low rents is unreasonable. As to why someone would rent for 30-40 years – I have no answer.

    Does the author of this piece realize all of this was virgin land at some point? Then came farmers. Then it was developed into “high density” when these apartments were built.

    Now these are considered low density and the density needs to be increased.

    The authors argument would’ve been more reasonable (IMHO) if they said it would be nice to have a few affordable units added to the mix of these. But to expect the landowner to have deminishinf returns strikes me a communist.

    Look at Allen Parkway Village! The city could sell that land for $100million AND provide more afford able units elsewhere with money left over.

    Did the author donate his wealth to the poor?

  • I thought all the creatives were moving to Marfa.

  • Old School you couldn’t have refuted this tripe any better! I read this article on someone’s Facebook page last week and was aghast at its hyperbole and blatant lies. Thank you.

  • It’s lovely you Republican types can’t see past yourselves, and likely never will.. But given something that effects you; you’ll turn into world class NIMBYS.. Sorry the hypocrisy you present isn’t lost on some, you put the $ in cla$$.

  • Old School for the win and comment of the year!

    Although, one could add that Steele St. isn’t prettier than North or South Blvd and West Alabama @ Kirby (Bed Bath and Beyond for Christ’s sake) is NOT the cultural center of Houston nor has it ever been.

  • Yep, those upgrades to Buffalo Bayou Park that voters approved are a real drag for everyone.

  • i haven’t read the entire article, but I can personally attest to the fact that many trees died during the drought. The live oaks, for the most part, pulled through the drought. The red oaks and pines suffered the most. I did not witness wholesale removal of trees as stated in the article that were not dead. They did act quickly, and rightly so. Can you imagine the liability of hundreds of dead trees in a city park that’s used heavily?

    I’m a treehugger for sure, and it’s devastating what happens in the park, but it was caused by nature.

  • taco milagro is the crux of this diatribe? that place was the biggest meat market for the fakery of this town it’s not even funny.
    Lament having lost the red lion 10 years ago.
    Lament the alabama ice house not being a 1 room shack with 4 picnic tables.
    Lament the hollywood food and video stores being gone from every corner.
    There are so many things that have been lost in that area over the past 20 years, all much more worthy than taco F-ing milagro. What a joke.

  • Once again: gentrification doesn’t happen all at once. The arrival of creatives is actually the first step in gentrification. As they’re priced out of ‘hip’ parts of town, they take their highly educated, coffee shop hanging-out-in lifestyle to new, previously struggling neighborhoods. This first step is a boon to the neighborhoods: it is quickly followed by drastic reductions in crime, greater density and diversity, improved schools, and civic improvements. There’s usually not a lot of displacement in the early stages of gentrification, because most of the newcomers move into infill housing on vacant lots, or previously vacant existing housing. Often, when a neighborhood wins an award as a “great place to live,” it’s near the end of the early stages of gentrification.
    It’s only when the mainstream, wealthy, non-creative types decide the neighborhood is ‘hip’ that you go into the final stages of gentrification – and it becomes a problem. This is when poorer people are displaced, including some of the creatives who were responsible for the early stages of gentrification. This is when everything’s sterilized and the mom&pop businesses are replaced by chains. Housing prices skyrocket, and you get what everyone thinks of as gentrification.
    I like what Memebag said. Home ownership is a great way to shield oneself against skyrocketing rents. There is, of course, the matter of increased property taxes – and that can push someone out if they have a tenuous hold on the house to begin with, but tax increases in my experience are usually not as drastic as rent increases, and easier to fight in a tight market.
    I also like what Dana-X said. The Asians created a new Chinatown north of Sharpstown when they were gentrified out of Midtown. Many gays have moved to Westbury as they got older and as Montrose gentrified. It’s time for the Creatives to follow suit.

  • I read that whole blog (my god it was long), and I say that parts of it were fiction. How does the author know the new high-rises are unoccupied? But I agree that the degree of displacement happening due to gentrification is a problem. I feel it to be a very ugly side-effect of capitalism. In our case, we found a place that we like, in a neighborhood we love, but can not possibly upgrade, because most of the land is (or was) worth more than the building on it. Our city enables this to happened because there is no provision to preserve, or rebuild, affordable housing. So you end up with a situation where the peasants, through nothing they did, are soon priced out of the place where they lived for many years, sometimes even when they own their house because the taxes become unaffordable to them. There is almost no way to prepare for such events, much stop them.
    As for Steel St, it is a damn shame about those trees. I hope that they will be saved.
    I liked most of what the author wrote, but the claim about the trees in Memorial Park being destroyed just because, is bullshit. The drought killed those trees and many others around town. They were cut down due to potential wildfires.

  • The authors tone is not “entitlement” as many of you claim, but more about values of life that a price can not, and should not, placed upon.
    He also called out this webpage, and I am disappointed so many of you are proving him right.
    @ drewgriz, I disagree that the writer implies that “Gentrification is okay until it displaces white people”. He is lamenting about the plight of the working class in a society that only rewards wealth with greater privilege.

    Owning your property does not guarantee your income later in life will allow you to continue living in your home. While it may be simple to up and move, it sure ain’t easy. Investing your life into a home and community has value that carries no dollar amount.

  • I bet those on Lazy Ln, Inwood etc have just been saving up so someday they can move south to the single most desirable location in Houston.

  • @toasty…There are so many things that have been lost in that area over the past 20 years, all much more worthy than taco F-ing milage.
    Yes. The Ale House

  • Some people have a very short time perspective. Sure, gentrification is happening in some places right now. But it doesn’t go on forever everywhere. Some of the places increasing in value now had been losing value for decades. No one stepped in to freeze values in the past and protect those who spent money there. Why should we freeze values now to prevent future spending? Just because you rent there? Please.
    Economic downturns will come again. People will abandon areas for other reasons, too. By renting you exchange the ability to stay put for the freedom to move. Use it.

  • Absurd article so full of hyperbole and incendiary rehetotic that it nullifies its own rational. Houston as expensive as LA? As if. He’s right about the trees, but that’s about it. Of course the RO Area and the west inner loop are becoming unaffordable, it’s the nicest area of the city. The shocking thing is that it remained relatively affordable for so long. At least if your home value goes up so high you can’t afford your taxes you can sell presumably for a nice profit and retire to The Hill Country. All and all hysterical hyperbole signifying nothing.

  • The funniest thing to me is when yuppies and hipsters go into an “edgy” neighborhood and gentrify it and then when all there yuppie and hipster contemporaries start invading the neighborhood a few yrs later they start screaming injustice of how the new residents are destroying the character of the neighborhood when they themselves where the first people to gentrify it..haha..stupid yuppies and hipsters

  • * not the trees in Memorial, that’s all do to the drought and complete negligence by the parks department. They made so little effort to save those trees it was malpractice. Thanks again, Mayor Parker, great job.

  • What a great article. I think, however, that the author really dropped the ball by failing to recognize another victim of the ongoing gentrification of the inner loop; RIP Brios Tuscan Grill. Much like hills surrounding Florence inspired the creative likes of Michelangelo, Brios Tuscan Grill was a haven for the creative class for several months. It will be missed.

  • I love negative national press on Houston. It keeps the ugly people away just a little bit longer. Some day Houston may well be as unaffordable as NYC or LA; let’s put it off as long as possible.

    Expensive! No culture! No trees! Mosquitoes the size of black bears! Let’s make sure all the folks from the Northeast and the Left Coast believe it.

  • The author gets it right on historic ROW tree preservation and how gentrification sadly displaces people groups. Otherwise lots of gross misstatements about Houston. I find it ironic he bashes the very city he purportedly states he is trying to help by writing the article. He makes Houston out to be this lost cause that has no hope for redemption (note “destroyed” is past tense). While nobody disagrees developers, city officials, and I daresay myself (nobody is perfect) have made our fair share of mistakes, he paints Houston in broad, unfair brushstrokes that doesn’t give our city credit for its multitudes of successes and improvements over the past decade and beyond.
    Hyperbolic generalizations (does he even know what an oligarchy is?) , and not getting the facts right only serves to further polarize yourself from the opposition and discredit yourself so nobody takes you seriously.

  • “Where he lives in a townhome.” Enough said.

  • Why do people just assume that they have to sell their house if they are a homeowner and want to move? You can easily move out, keep the house, and be someone else’s landlord. We did it this way when we moved in 2012. We were upside down on the old house, but the mortgage payments were no big deal. So we bought our new house, sat on the old one, and rented it out until the market was more favorable for a sale.
    The only advice I would give is: if you’re a first time landlord, or if you move out of town – hire an experienced, local property manager to help take care of your rent house and tenants. We did, and Before we sold, I would thank myself for that decision every day.

  • Granted if the mortgage payments are high and/or you can’t swing the moving costs while you find a tenant, it can be difficult. But not more so than selling the house….

  • My comments are all over the original article. Anybody that knows me knows that I am hardly a conservative, but geez this guy was way out there

  • SBV-

    PMSL. Bravo for Brio!

  • This guy is complaining about the gentrification of UPPER KIRBY?? Let’s complain about the quality of the sod at River Oaks Country Club while we’re at it! And Taco Milagro closing?? Really? Who cares?? Is this guy for real?

  • I find that since all this gentrification started taking place that I am accosted by fewer prostitutes. I’m afraid that the prostitutes are being displaced with the creatives as well.

  • ZAW: Great advice. I’ve never sold a single family home I’ve owned. When I move, I rent out the old one. When I moved from San Diego to Houston, I kept my place in SD and had it as a vacation rental. Free place to stay when I wanted to visit the family :)
    They normally cash flow a little. Not a ton once you factor in capital costs, but it’s something — and you have someone paying off your mortgage each month.
    The only reason I would sell is if I had a ton of equity I really needed to use to buy a new place. But in that case, I’d rather just refi and use that $ instead as the interest cost of those funds is less than the return you get from renting it out.

  • The deaths of the trees in Memorial Park was a failure of long term planning for global climate change.

    Yes, the loss of Taco Milagro is as distressing as the invasion of hipster living spaces above retail happening everywhere onside the loop; the traffic snarles are endemic because the streets can’t handle the vehicles.

    But ALL OF THESE PROBLEMS are a direct result of no zoning laws.

    Basically, Houston is SCREWED.

  • “Common”sense- you must be from Dallas….

  • Amazing entitled rant. It’s really long, so you can be forgiven for not getting to the end of it. Don’t miss the action items for Mayor Parker at the end, which includes the following:

    ” An arbitration committee should provide a mechanism for future disputes between neighborhoods and developers, to reduce the power of developers working through the planning commission. The planning commission’s arbitrary powers should be severely curtailed. [???]

    Rents should be regulated in central districts to retain the kind of people who create urban vitality. A plan should be set in place to make aesthetically appealing housing available at modest cost in historic neighborhoods, in order to counter renewed segregation. [yes, we should subsidize people like the author of this article so that they can pay below-market rents in the most desirable part of Houston. Naturally, we taxpayers will need to compensate the landlords for the instant drop in value of their properties]

    Property conversion should have to follow restrictive new guidelines so that the constant cycle of tearing down and building up to inflated proportions can be rechanneled into citywide development of culture and infrastructure. [Mayor Parker should institute zoning?]

  • I can’t believe these comments. Just up and move, what’s the big deal? Really? Uprooting your life because someone you don’t know is “improving” the property where you’ve lived most of your life means as much as taking a trip across town but never coming back?

  • @GlenW: It isn’t just “someone” improving the property, it’s the owner. If you don’t want to be at their mercy you have to buy instead of rent. That’s what renting means. It means you keep more of your own money and in exchange you have to leave when the owner says so.
    How would you change that? If renters get all of the benefits of owning, why would anyone own?

  • @GlenW: The first mistake was renting from someone you don’t know most of your life. People who make bad decisions have to live with the consequences. If people don’t care enough about the neighborhood to invest their own money in it then maybe they shouldn’t be living there.

  • it does seem a lot of the writers frustration comes from the sudden upheaval and 30-day notice. and he’s probably right, 30 days is by no means adequate when you have to move and put up kids in new schools. however, our 30-day notice policy is reflected in the area’s rental pricing and any more stringent requirements would impact the market rates. you don’t get the benefit of enjoying lower rents for years on end and then suddenly feel the need to throw a fit when you have to be subjected to the contractual policies you signed up for all those years ago. everyone renting in this area has known full well what’s been going on for these past few years and that no property is fully safe for renting indefinitely.
    i’m not familiar enough with how the permitting process and public commenting works, but any changes to include longer gestation periods for all parties to work out the kinks isn’t necessarily the best way to go. i’m completely against him on setback variances and historical preservation though. things such as lot size restrictions, preservation and such have long been tools of the wealthy to suppress development and harm incoming residents for the sheer benefit of pre-existing landowners.

  • Along these lines (or more accurately, Kirby), I want to know why the author isn’t lamenting the loss of the classic Wendy’s building! Never mind the trees, those can be replanted, but when that new cool-modern restaurant design is finished, we’ll have lost another part of historic Houston architecture! Just more Upper Kirby attitude, I’m sure. Place probably won’t have free Wi-Fi either.

  • Re 30 day notice: Relatives of mine lived in those apartments. Everyone has known for years they were going to be sold. The 30 day notice wasn’t a surprise.

  • Out with the “creative class” and in with the “flexians”!

  • anon, the uptown sleaze hasn’t drifted that far west yet. I’d say more STEM’s than flexians at this point still.

  • You know, after reading this article, and seeing just how ridiculous it is, I gotta ask:

    Is this guy just trolling us?

  • I’m not even going to read that because I refuse to give them traffic but also because I’ll get angry at the guy’s cluelessness and general moral high-ground obnoxiousness. The latter comes into play when there’s comments like “Rents should be regulated in central districts to retain the kind of people who create urban vitality” (as in, only the “low-rent creative types” are true “urbanists”, everyone else can fuck off), but the former just is annoying. Like those trees in Memorial Park were definitely dead from the drought. Yeah, it sucked, but they’re not coming back to life. Montrose has been gentrifying for years now. In fact, the guy has some narrow-minded view about what the Inner Loop actually entails. Like, there’s the East End, the Third Ward, and the Fifth Ward.

  • Shivani’s screed wastes the reader’s time. The only “insight,” that Houston has been growing and improving, isn’t news to anyone that lives here. Writing down a self-righteous tirade of revulsions and anti-capitalist antipathies doesn’t magically equate to sound economic or desirable aesthetic arguments. Shivani should spend more time with Schumpeter and less time writing parochial, small minded rants about a great city that is on the move.

  • They DO have rent controlled apartments … Section 8 and Housing Authority projects. Are you telling me this guy does not want to live in the utopian environment he advocates? Hypocrite!

  • $30 a barrel oil will fix all this bickering.

    And don’t think that isn’t a likely possibility, all you know-it-alls with SFB.

    Go OPEC!

  • Commonsense, come on now–your comment regarding Section 8 states that some how you know the eligibility status of the author to gain access to what you also assume the author regards as a utopia. Even then, Texas has no rent control under Section 8.