Tag Archives: Houston

Could The Houston Construction Boom Go Bust?

Whether young or old, rich or poor, anyone in the city of Houston within the last year or so has at least one shared experience… We’ve all had to endure massive amounts of residential and commercial construction. At the start of 2015,new construction projects are likely to hit their peak, with many hoping to reach completion before the city hosts the 2017 Super Bowl.

But are all of these fast and furious projects truly warranted?  Paul Takahashi of the Houston Business Journal isn’t so sure…

Texas housing markets have remained relatively stable despite a volatile national market. While average home prices nationally grew 38 percent between 2000 to 2006 — before the housing market crash of 2007 — Texas averaged a “comfortable” 18 percent growth. The Lone Star State “remained largely on the sidelines” during the most recent housing bubble, the Fitch report said.

Since the Great Recession however, the Texas economy has been booming, buoyed by the state’s strong energy sector. The job growth has attracted thousands of new residents to Texas, fueling the homebuying rush and homebuilding frenzy. Today, the Texas housing market is about 11 percent overvalued, according to Fitch.

However, Texas’ current housing boom is “out of character with its price history,” and is unsustainable in the long run, said Fitch director and analyst Stefan Hilts.

“What we’re most worried about is speculative buying and selling,” Hilts said. “People aren’t buying houses because they need to; it’s because they can. That’s causing a big market distortion.”

This is not to say that all of the city’s construction projects are suddenly unjustified.  The mini-boom of residential and hotel construction in downtown Houston, for example, is not a measure of over-build.  In fact, the CBD is actually playing catch-up to remain competitive with other cities, especially in the Convention and Tourism sectors.

And of course the construction and housing markets, though inextricably linked because most construction is of the residential variety, are not one and the same.  Even if one sector of housing construction were to slow a bit in 2015, it doesn’t mean that it will tank the rest of market.  Demand for relocation to urban neighborhoods like downtown and the Galleria is still firmly on the rise.

But the potential trouble, if any, could come in the single family market.  If energy prices continue to drop, job and population growth will eventually feel the effects.  In any scenario, it seems virtually impossible for the area to retain record-high home values, as they have driven both property taxes and rents to levels never seen in the best of previous boom years.  Hopefully, those artificial valuations will be the first to go in 2015, allowing a healthy amount of construction activity to continue.

Chase Lantern

Downtown construction at night


Downtown Houston from the Wells Fargo Tower with cranes visible in the lower right corner.


The east side of Downtown is currently dotted with cranes.


Construction just behind a new rail station in Downtown.  The rail line is set to open in April of 2015.



A crane rises above residential houses in the Montrose neighborhood, set to construct a 30-story tower at Montrose and Hawthorne streets.  Due to a lack of comprehensive zoning laws, skyscrapers can be built in virtually any area of Houston.


Ahead of Critical HERO Court Date, Houston City Attorney Resigns

Just days before a pivotal court date, proponents of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance are set to lose one of the persons most knowledgeable about the law.  Here’s more from the Houston Chronicle

City Attorney David Feldman on Friday announced that he plans to resign next month, citing, among other reasons, that he could better defend the city’s embattled equal rights ordinance as a key witness than as a lawyer in the upcoming case.

Feldman has played a crucial and at times controversial role in Mayor Annise Parker‘s administration, alternately acting as chief negotiator, attack dog, policy wonk and spokesman.

Feldman said Friday that the main reason for his departure was his desire to work at a law firm with his son.

“The primary driving force is the desire to go back into private practice and frankly to go back into private practice at a time when I think there are people out there who I used to represent who still remember me,” Feldman said. “And my son has been after me continuously. There’s a draw there, there’s an allure, ‘Feldman and Feldman.’ I wanted to start 2015 in a new gig.”

But he acknowledged that the timing of his resignation was driven by the court date for Parker’s signature equal rights ordinance, which is set to take center stage Jan 19. Conservative critics sued the city this summer after Feldman and Parker announced that the group’s petition to send the ordinance to the ballot did not contain enough valid signatures. Opponents seeking to force the referendum largely take issue with the rights extended to gay and transgender residents under the ordinance City Council passed last May.

Despite Feldman’s statement saying that he will be a greater asset to the City from the witness chair than the Attorney’s desk, it’ very hard to see any logic in his decision to step out just as the HERO case is heating up. Unless of course he sees what myself and other have… The fight that lies ahead to protect HERO is potentially much more difficult than the fight to get the law passed.

This leaves city in a scramble not only find top notch legal representation, but also to get those persons up to speed in a precious few weeks. We’ll see what Mayor Parker and her team can come up with.

No matter the amount of animus thrown at HERO, it’s really important to remember one last point… the anti equality side’s arguments are built on lies. They may be growing rapidly in money and power, but that doesn’t make anything that they say actually TRUE. This ordinance is common-sense legislation that is already in place across the country. The facts are are squarely on the side of equal protection for all.

Off the Kuff, Brains and Eggs and Texpatriate have more.

HPD Film Hightlights New Methods to Aid Houston Homeless

Anyone that lives in the city of Houston probably has stories of encountering the homeless.  We see them at traffic stops, under freeway bridges, and at various points around town.  Sometimes the issue of homelessness can seem like an insurmountable problem for a major urban area.

But Houston, under the leadership of Mayor Annise Parker and Police Chief Charles McClelland, is making great strides to tackle the needs of the city’s most at-risk population.  The new film Shepherds in Blue talks about the innovative methods being deployed by the Houston Police Department, and also highlights that they are having success.  Through partnerships with city and county mental health organizations, HPD is working to show people that they do have a way out from homelessness.

“Traditionally police departments have been reactive… The goal of the Homeless Outreach Team is to reduce the number of police complaints by reducing the number of people on the streets.” says Sergeant Stephen Wick in the film.  Instead of “short-term fixes” like writing tickets to homeless persons or throwing them in jail, HPD is making an effort to target the root causes of homelessness.

This new level of proactive community policing is beginning to yield real results for the city, and for the people whose lives are changed when they are given the opportunity for a better life.

Watch Shepherds in Blue below, and you can visit the Houston Police Department Mental Health Division for more information on their work.



City Revises Subpoenas, Removes Request For Sermons

Since the story caught wildfire and continues to ricochet across the internet, the City of Houston has decided to revise the HERO Subpoena request.  Here’s more from Mike Morris of the Houston Chronicle

Mayor Annise Parker on Friday followed through on her pledge to narrow the scope of subpoenas sent to local pastors who led opposition to the city’s equal rights ordinance earlier this year.

Though the subpoena’s new wording removes any mention of “sermons” — a reference that created a firestorm among Christian conservative groups and politicians, including Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, who accused Parker of trying “to silence the church” — the mayor acknowledged the new subpoenas do not explicitly preclude sermons from being produced.

“We don’t need to intrude on matters of faith to have equal rights in Houston, and it was never the intention of the city of Houston to intrude on any matters of faith or to get between a pastor and their parishioners,” Parker said. “We don’t want their sermons, we want the instructions on the petition process. That’s always what we wanted and, again, they knew that’s what we wanted because that’s the subject of the lawsuit.”

As readers know, the subpoenas became the quick subject of national news, rising up through the Conservative blogosphere, and landing major fodder for every media outlet from Fox News to Time magazine.  And yes of course, Texas Leftist was also reeled in hook, line and sinker.

Further into the press conference, Mayor Parker reveals to ABC 13 reporter Miya Shay that she doesn’t regret the city’s actions

Miya Shay: “Mayor do you think you would’ve bothered to change the language if not for all of the attention?”

Mayor Parker: No, we wouldn’t have.  They knew what we wanted. […] There was nothing inappropriate with their request, but it was worded in a way that allowed misinterpretation.  But no, we wouldn’t have weighed in if it hadn’t been brought to our attention.

Attorney Feldman also commented that the other side broke protocol in an effort to gain press attention.

Feldman:  In the normal discovery process… if the other side has a problem your discovery request, before you file a motion to quash, you are supposed to confer about the issue.  Had they done that in this case… they could have told us they had an issue with this request, and we would’ve agreed.  But they decided to make it a media circus.

From watching the press conference,  it seems pretty clear that the issue has caused a fair amount of stress for the Mayor’s office, due to the heinous amount of hate mail it has likely generated.  Parker was very direct with her responses, and probably just wants the saga to be over. In the end though, it is much better that the City revise and clarify the subpoenas so as not to mislead people assuming sinister intentions.

Firestorm aside, the most important aspect of these cases is yet to come.  The actual trial to determine if there will ever be a HERO referendum takes place in January.  Just remember that as was seen this week, the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance is still needed, and in fact laws like it need to be expanded to citizens across the state.  Kudos to the Mayor and the City Attorney on fulfilling a promise they made earlier in the week.  For the sake of all Houstonians, let’s try to move forward from this misstep.

Check out the press conference below…


Houston METRO “Approves” System Reimagining Plan

In a 4 hour meeting that became heated and personal at times, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County took another major step towards the agency’s System Reimagining plan.

With State Representative Borris Miles, and other elected officials and community leaders present, the plan was approved pending a 60-day intensive study with further recommendations to come back before the board in November.  Basically, METRO is now fully committed to System Reimagining, but has not yet finalized the new routes.

“In reality we will not lock any of this in until March”, board member Christof Spieler said.  “We are required to hold full hearings [on the Reimagining Plan] once schedules have been written, and to allow the public to look at those schedules before this moves forward.”

Before the vote, testimony was given with citizens speaking both for and against the new plan.  Joetta Stevenson, a member with Fifth Ward Super Neighborhood Civic Club, had some very specific concerns.  “System Reimagining is going negatively impact 19 percent of Seniors in the Fifth Ward community. You cannot single out minority and poor areas for less service.”  She noted that residents like herself will lose direct coverage routes to centers like LBJ Hospital and Ben Taub. She also had some issues with the new Flex Zone plans, preferring to keep fixed route service in her area.

In response, Spieler pointed out that the new plans will actually help a large number of Houston’s poor residents by expanding services in under-represented, high-density areas.

“The areas that benefit the most from the this plan are minority and low-income areas.  If you look at population density, [Gulfton] is by far the largest concentration of low-income residents in the area, and they have been dramatically under-served by our system for decades.”

Thus the decision behind METRO’s approval today… move forward with Reimagining, but keep making adjustments to the routes.

Houston has the distinction of being the both one of the nation’s largest and most sparsely populated cities.  In recent years, the city has experienced rapid densification in certain areas, but it’s still a long way off from the density of cities like New York, Chicago, or even Los Angeles.  It’s these challenges that have caused the need for System Reimagining, and also the reasons that residents are so worried about the changes.  It’s important that the region move forward and find ways to improve the transit system, so for that residents should be glad for METRO’s step this week.  Change is rarely easy, but as long as the agency and community continue to dialogue, Houston and Harris County will get the transit they need for the 21st Century.

As Board members made clear, this week’s vote is not the final say for the ambitious Reimagining project. But it does make clear that the days are numbered for the area’s current system. Even with difficulty, change can be a good thing.



Working Poor Left Behind In Houston’s Booming Economy

If you listen to conversations across the US, there seems to be one city at the forefront of the news lately… everyone is talking about Houston.  With massive construction projects sprouting up in every direction and a flood of “Newstonians”– yes we had to come up with a term for them– moving to the area daily, it’s easy to see why the Bayou City is getting increased national attention.

But the good times aren’t being had by all in Houston.  As Lomi Kriel of the Houston Chronicle points out, the city’s working poor are seeing a very different side to the economic prosperity…

As a full-time cleaner at the George R. Brown convention center for the past six years, Ana Franco has no benefits, sick pay or vacation, and has seen her salary grow only 18 cents to $8.85 an hour.

“The money isn’t enough,” the 40-year-old mother of three said. “Everything is very expensive. Food, clothes, and the rent rises almost every month.”

Despite the region’s booming economy and lowest unemployment in years, many Houstonians are, like Franco, essentially earning the same as they were a year after the Great Recession ended, what experts say is part of a nationwide trend of growing income disparity, according to new U.S. Census data released Thursday.


Experts say the data shows the unevenness of the nation’s recovery from the recession. Since it ended more than five years ago, many of the gains in employment, income and wealth haven’t spread throughout the economy. A report last month by Sentier Research, a company led by former Census officials, found the median U.S. household income in June was actually $1,698 less than when the expansion began in June 2009.

“The recovery has certainly been very poorly balanced. We’ve known this now for a couple of years,” said Barton Smith, professor emeritus of economics at the University of Houston. “The upper-income levels has gained mostly at the sacrifice of little or no gains, or even losses, in lower and middle incomes.”

Those disparities between upper and lower-income earners are being felt quite severely in Houston.  As Ms. Franco points out, renters have seen dramatic increases in just a few short years thanks to exploding property taxes.  But if your income is not going up to meet the rising rent, it means that you have less money to live on at the end of the month.

The other issue that has a direct affect on wages in Texas?  The prevalence of low or no-benefits jobs.  Even if a low-wage worker can make enough to pay the bills from month to month, what are they supposed to do when they get sick??  Don’t forget that half of all working Texans were uninsured as of 2013, and considering that the state has refused to Expand Medicaid, those numbers have not improved nearly as much as they could when compared to other states.

But thankfully in 2014, the working poor of Greater Houston have a real choice in the upcoming state elections.  In the races for Governor and Lieutenant Governor, both Democratic candidates Wendy Davis and Leticia Van de Putte support raising the minimum wage for the state of Texas, while their Republican opponents Greg Abbott and Dan Patrick remain staunchly opposed. Houstonians have the power to vote for higher wages this November.  If enough people show up at the polls, Houston and Texas won’t have to settle for being left behind anymore.


(photo credit:  SEIU Texas

Crane Insane: Downtown Houston Construction Update

By now, most Houstonians are used to seeing the occasional crane in downtown, and even more so in the Texas Medical Center. There is always something being built anew in the Bayou City these days.

But as we enter the latter part of 2014, Downtown construction is about to go from a small group of projects to insane with cranes. This rapid growth, the largest growth spurt seen in Houston since the 1980s, will also have it’s fair share of growing pains. As Swamplot reports, traffic can get tricky…

IF YOU’RE wondering what the late-night traffic holdup is in and around Main St. and Texas Ave. over the weekend, here’s your explainer: 180 mixing trucks are going to be lining up to pour a continuous stream of concrete onto this site surrounded by Main, Texas, Fannin, and Capitol streets downtown, where D.E. Harvey builders is putting together a little office building — now slated to rise 48 stories — for the Hines CalPERS Green development fund. The action starts at 7 pm on Saturday and should finish up around 3 in the afternoon the next day.

Weekend street closures are just the beginning. If you are a frequent visitor to downtown, start planning some alternate routes now. By the fourth quarter of 2014, downtown should see 15 simultaneous projects (possibly more) entering the high construction phase. That translates to a lot of blocked streets!

The motivation behind the copious construction is in part due to the business community’s self-imposed deadline of having a new and different downtown by the 2017 Super Bowl. Hopefully everything can get done by then, but for the meantime, Houstonians are definitely going to notice the changes.

Here are some pictures of the 609 Main construction this weekend, along with a preview of the coming rail stations…


Here is the crane base for 609 Main 


A view of the assembly crane (needed to construct the primary cranes) with a second project crane in the background.


Some projects will be completed this year, like the Houston MetroRail expansion. Here is a view of Central Station for the Green and Purple Line. 


Here is the Main Street portion of Central Station. Houston’s new rail transit services should start in December 2014