Thursday, April 11, 2013

Of taxes, good schools and kinks in the demand curve.

For years now, Houston leaders and sardine-urbanists have used the results of the Kinder Houston Area Survey as a de facto guide star for navigating the choppy waters of city planning.  In the 2012 survey those who would like to see everyone crammed inside the Beltway (or, even more ideally, the Loop) squeed with joy as 51% of survey respondents expressed a desire to live closer to work in livable, walkable neighborhoods.  39% even said that they would move into a smaller home to do so.  The problem, based on the questions, is that the "city/suburbs" qualifier didn't apply to the "where to move or live" questions.

Whereas the "move" question read as such:

 If R lives in a suburban or rural area (WHERELIV2): How interested would you be in someday moving to a more urban area? Would you say: very interested, somewhat interested, or not interested? (12)

The "urban living" question was not broken down:

If you could chose where to live in the Houston area, would you prefer: - [ROTATE:] A single-family home with a big yard, where you would need to drive almost everywhere you want to go; or: A smaller home in a more urbanized area, within walking distance of shops and workplaces? (08, 10, 12)

What this means is that, of all the respondents, several of the "I would like to live in a smaller house" answers could have been answered by people already living in that environment. Given that only 39% of respondents answered that in the affirmative, there's a very good chance that a large majority of people who desire a smaller home and urban lifestyle are already taking advantage of those amenities.

The problem with the "suburban move" question is that it doesn't offer any trade-offs.  Therefore it doesn't surprise that 51% of Houston area residents think moving in closer to the City would be a swell idea.  Most of us would like to have a shorter commute would it mean giving up nothing in the way of lifestyle.  In other words, all of these questions are asked in a vacuum, missing several external variables that go into the home-buying decision, schools, taxes, etc.  Given those points it is no wonder that the HAS has no explanation for why people are increasingly moving to the suburbs, survey answers to the contrary.

It's also no surprise that Houston's local elected officials have decided that encouraging development that packs people in tightly is the way to go. ($$$)  In the story, which is pay-walled so I will not blockquote, Houston Mayor Annise Parker bemoans the absence of homes "like she grew up in" within the city limits.  It seems to elude her that the construction of townhomes, patio-homes and condominiums are not going to bring her childhood home back either.  The resulting neighborhoods are going to be too dense to provide a meaningful substitute for what is currently found in most suburbs.  It's a fool's mission.

While hardly scientific, the comments to this ChronBlog post asking whether people would move back into the city if the price was right are very illuminating.  Overwhelmingly the response is "no".  I would assume the move-rate would be higher than the comments, but would it be enough to generate meaningful investment in previously unlivable areas?  Or is Houston setting itself up for "The Heights II: Invasion of the slightly less wealthy Caucasian DINKs?  In reality what's going to happen is that developers are going to find existing single-family home neighborhoods where people are already living and start knocking down homes and rebuilding 2-3 townhomes on the lot.  Think Rice Military or the old 6th ward if you think that hasn't happened before.

Finally, attempts at price control never work out as planned. The goal of any smart developer is to maximize profit and they realize that their are profits to be made from certain groups on residences of this type.  What resulted inside the Loop when this was allowed was not an increase in the number of homes available to the middle-class, it was an increase in the amount of homes available to the affluent while the poor and middle-class were shunted to the outer locales.  If you've been paying attention, this is exactly what those of a sardine-urbanist lean really want.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment Policy:Any comment containing profanity or presonal attacks will be disallowed. Repeated violations will get you marked as SPAM. Real name is preferred, fake names will be carefully considered before being allowed. If your on-line moniker is so widely known as to be a clear identifier, that's OK too. If your comment doesn't appear, give it some time. I do have a day job.

Sports Section