What the Rest of the Country Can Learn from Houston’s Damn-Low Rents

Matt Yglesias’s new book, “The Rent is Too Damn High” has been getting a lot of buzz on the Streetsblog Network recently. It seems the problem Yglesias describes — zoning restrictions that make new urban housing development onerous or near impossible — exists in every city, much to the frustration of those seeking affordable rents, not to mention those who favor walkable urban neighborhoods.

But if there’s one urban place where new housing can be built freely, one city we might look to as a model, that place is — surprise — Houston, says Chris Bradford at the Austin Contrarian. While it might be known for sprawl, Houston’s relative lack of land-use regulations actually makes it a good place in terms of facilitating infill development, Bradford says:

Demand for housing has been rising in the Montrose/River Oaks area in Houston, especially from renters. Rents rose there at a 9.1% annual rate in January.

The difference between Houston and a lot of other cities is that it is still easy to add housing in Houston’s nice, central city neighborhoods (unless your project has “Ashby” in the title). There are currently 15 apartment projects with 4,300 units under construction in the Montrose/River Oaks area. That’s not “announced” units; that’s 4,300 units under construction. For point of reference, only 3,089 building permits were issued for housing units of any type in the entire San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metropolitan area in 2011.

Houston has a lot of needless land-use controls, including excessive minimum-space requirements and parking minimums, but there really aren’t many other places in the country where there is both strong demand for infill development and a regulatory environment that freely allows it.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Transit Miami shares the grim details of an especially bloody weekend on the city’s streets (and even sometimes near the roads). Second Avenue Sagas uses street shots in New York City’s DUMBO neighborhood to illustrate how traffic problems are caused by private cars and delivery vehicles — not buses, as some residents claim. And This Big City looks at the failure-fraught history of the monorail.