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Apartment boom coming

I have many things to say about this.

High occupancies and rising rents for apartments are driving a new wave of development in Houston’s high-end urban neighborhoods.

More than 3,500 units in a dozen complexes are under construction primarily inside the 610 Loop and around the Galleria. Nearly 8,700 more are proposed, according to Houston-based Apartment Data Services. Most, if not all, are being planned with top-notch finishes and high-dollar rents.

The flurry of activity is meaningful after a period where construction was virtually nonexistent. Amid the nation’s economic crisis, developers couldn’t get loans to start new construction and the appetite for apartments soured as renters moved in with relatives or doubled up in units.

But with the local job market beginning to recover, demand has been ramping back up, and the numbers of available units are dwindling. Few are concerned about a glut.

“If we ever needed construction, we need it now and need it soon,” said Bruce McClenny, president of Apartment Data Services.

Most of the units won’t be ready until late 2012 at the earliest.

The print edition of this story, which ran on Sunday, included a completely inaccurate map that among other things confused Weslayan with Shepherd and Richmond with both Bissonnet and Allen Parkway. I eventually gave up trying to make sense of it.

Among the projects listed were several of the longstanding vacant lots that I’ve noted from time to time. One that is actually under construction is the Ashton Rice Village, formerly the hippie bohemian attorney Sonoma development. Two others that are listed as “proposed” are Regent Square, home of the former Allen House apartments, which claimed last year that it would break ground in 2012, and the infamous Ashby Highrise, which may have lawsuit issues of its own to deal with. Not included: The site that used to house The Stables restaurant, which was torn down nearly five years ago. I have absolutely no idea what is going on with that site and when if ever something will be built there. At the time, one of the buyers said “We’ve acquired a crucial one-acre parcel in the Med Center area, which is hard to do”. You’d think by now someone would want to do something with it.

About two thirds of the 37 properties shown on the crappy map are in the rectangle bounded by the West Loop, I-10, the Southwest Freeway, and I-45. In other words, basically Montrose, Rice U/Med Center, Upper Kirby, West U, and River Oaks. If all of these projects get built, and all of the apartments get leased (I know, not going to happen) you’re talking 20 to 25 thousand more people in the area. As these are mostly high-end places, you have to wonder what effect this will have on the demographics and the politics; most of this territory is in the court-drawn HD134, and in the new City Council District C. Greg often talks about the re-honkification of the Heights. This isn’t the Heights, and this area was pretty Anglo to begin with, but there’s likely to be an effect nonetheless.

(Alta Heights, at 141 Heights Blvd, is the closest project listed to the Heights proper. This is basically across the street from the Ainbinder Wal-Mart site, and used to be a low-income apartment complex.)

With all this dense construction taking place in an already crowded part of town, you would hope that the need for more and better transit would be seen as increasingly urgent. Some of these projects will be close to the Universities rail line when it finally gets built, but a lot more than that is going to be needed to handle this and to allow for future projects like them. I’ll say again how nice it would be if the county, instead of spending gazillions of dollars on a road to nowhere to accommodate people that might live there 20 years from now, spent a few dollars helping to improve mobility where people are right now.

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5 Comments

  1. mary t says:

    Transportation alternatives to more highways have to be pursued and promoted in Houston. I lived in the Montrose area (1 block from HSPVA) almost 20 years ago and now attend a regular event on Monday nights just a few blocks from where I used to live. The parking situation is much worse now. There haven’t been any high-density developments, so it must be more cars per housing unit. I know there are viable transportation options in the area–I walked to work, but I could have taken a bus–and light rail is not far away now.

  2. Peter Wang says:

    Yes, kill roads the nowhere, but the answer can’t always be, “bring all the money inside Loop 610 because that’s where the transit need is”. There are pockets all over Harris County where households have low access to cars – portions of the 290 / Hempstead corridor for example – don’t they deserve some service, too? People paying $1000s per month for luxury apartments shouldn’t always be getting more and more transit or more and more Ashby Highrise mess-fixing just because they’re rich folks, while everyone else doesn’t get those perks. Out here in Cy-Fair, I’ve been paying the METRO tax for 19 years, and I look around and the closest METRO facility is five miles away, and I can’t even bike ride there. The closest bike-able METRO facility is nine miles away. I can think of better things to do with my 1% sales tax, frankly.

  3. Oh, I certainly agree that there’s need outside of Loop 610, Peter. I’m just whining about the Grand Parkway and how wasteful and short-sighted it is, as I so often do.

  4. jon boyd says:

    Why are we not seeing more apartments downtown and midtown?

    @mary t

    I think you are right: there are more cars per dwelling.

    Back in the 80s, there were fewer cars inhabiting Montrose. Many old storefronts were grandfathered on parking. The newer retail buildings were required to conform to City of Houston parking minimums, accounting for an increase in space for parking. We are cramming more townhouses into Montrose, but we are increasing car density more effectively than population density as they also must conform to CoH parking minimums. So Montrose has become less pedestrian friendly and more driveable.

    Do we really expect folks buying homes with garages will opt not to have a car? Minimum parking requirements induce driving.

  5. Eric says:

    Can you imagine the traffic on Kirby and Buffalo Speedway when these units open? It’s been horrible for the past few years with construction, and I don’t think it’ll get any better when they’re done.

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