Yes, we’re still talking about Chapter 42, the local development and density code. One of the goals of revamping Chapter 42 is to make it easier and more attractive to build mid-range housing in the city limits. How do we hope that will work?
“We have housing for the working poor, we have a lot of high-end housing, and we’re rapidly redeveloping the inner core of the city of Houston for high-end, high-density housing. But the kind of house that I grew up in, the kind of house that many of the working men and women in this city want to own close to their jobs, is disappearing,” Mayor Annise Parker said. “If we can create more density, there is more opportunity for people to have the opportunity to buy a home – maybe a patio home, maybe a townhome, maybe a single-family home on a small tract – and live closer to their jobs.”
While the Houston region is booming, little of that growth is inside the city limits, a trend builders blame on their inability to build reasonably priced housing in the “doughnut” between Loop 610 and the unincorporated suburbs. The last rewrite of the ordinance in 1999 designated the Inner Loop “urban,” with 27 housing units allowed per acre, and areas outside “suburban,” with up to 16 units allowed. The proposed changes to the development code, known as Chapter 42, would extend the Inner Loop’s density citywide.
To produce workforce housing, land generally must cost between $5 and $10 per square foot, according to calculations provided by builders. Most areas outside Loop 610 but inside city limits have median land prices of less than $5 per square foot, according to Harris County Appraisal District data. But Jim Gaines of the Real Estate Center at Texas A&M questioned whether there is a market for housing in such areas. Land prices in many desirable neighborhoods outside the Loop exceed $20 or even $30 per square foot.
“You almost have to be surgical about it,” said David Hale, vice president of David Weekley Homes. “If it’s workforce housing, they can’t afford necessarily a $300,000 house, but with increased density can I get them in a $200,000 house?”
Hale has given a presentation to neighborhood groups about the proposal, using seven developments as examples. In all but one case, the average home price dropped from $400,000-plus under existing rules to $300,000 or more with greater density.
Other builders said greater density would produce townhomes in the $250,000 range.
Such prices may be out of reach for the “workforce,” however, which city housing department guidelines define as those earning 80 to 110 percent of the area median income.
Given that buyers with good credit can afford a home 3.3 to 3.5 times their annual income, Gaines said, workforce housing in Houston would be about $140,000 to $204,000 for a two- person household and about $157,400 to $229,500 for a three-person household.
“A little wishful thinking there, but maybe there are providers that know how to do that better than us,” said Will Holder of Trendmaker Homes, a high-end suburban builder.
Jane West of the Super Neighborhood Alliance is doubtful. Builders will use the new rules to redevelop older homes on the edges of desirable areas, she said, just as they did inside the Loop after the 1999 revisions.
“If you look at the empirical evidence from what has happened in the Inner Loop over the last 14 years of this type of development, this development displaced workforce housing,” West said. “It did not produce workforce housing.”
See here and here for recent updates. I definitely agree with the goal here, but Jane West makes a strong point about recent history. Maybe it will be different this time, but I’d like some better reassurance than that. And I will say again, there is cheap real estate in Houston, including some parts of town not at all far from downtown. I’ve talked about the Fifth Ward plenty, as noted there are some promising things happening there, but it’s not the only place with abundant empty spaces. The other day I got to visit Sugar Hill Studios, and let me tell you, once you get east of 288 on Old Spanish Trail, there’s a lot of vacant lots. Now, much of this would be commercial space if it were developed, and there’s a lot that needs to happen in areas like this to make it enticing to developers and potential residents, but it’s there, it’s a short hop to downtown via 288 or I-45, and I daresay it would meet that $5 to $10 per square foot requirement. What are we doing to make full and better use of the space we already have? That’s the question I keep coming back to, and it’s one we’re going to have to tackle sooner or later. Texas Leftist has more on Chapter 42.