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Old Posted May 4, 2021, 8:26 PM
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Detached Townhomes & What Houston Is Doing RIght

‘Detached Townhomes,’ Gentrifying The Gentrifiers And Housing Regulation That Is Uniquely Houston


Apr 29, 2021

By Kinder Institute Research

Read More: https://kinder.rice.edu/urbanedge/20...-secret-zoning

“Re-Taking Stock: Understanding the Connections between Housing Trends and Gentrification in Harris County.” https://kinder.rice.edu/research/re-...-are-connected

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Something is really going right in Houston with its housing growth patterns. Any city has problems when you look at it under the microscope, and Houston is no exception, but that can also cause us to lose sight of things that are positive. Houston is doing things that most other big U.S. cities’ political establishments say they want to achieve, but unlike most other places, in Houston, the talk is actually being matched with results on the ground. But, that doesn’t mean Houston is a Shangri-La for housing. As the report shows so well, the city’s neighborhoods are evolving in different ways that are highly complex and tough to summarize with a single catchphrase.

- That brings me to my second observation: gentrification. Although, in my view, still a useful concept, the term gentrification has come to so thoroughly dominate discourse about growing U.S. cities that it flattens out a lot of the complexity and variety driving the ways in which neighborhoods in cities are changing. The sophisticated analysis in “Re-Taking Stock” makes it possible to tell a more nuanced and ultimately richer story of the city’s evolution in its fullness. — And, finally, even if there is a lot to celebrate regarding Houston’s growth patterns, and even if gentrification is not the only problem the city’s vulnerable residents face — far from it — those residents still face a lot of housing-related challenges. The Houston story shows the limitations of what simply allowing housing, which Houston has done better than just about anywhere else, can do. The silver lining here is that Houston’s unique system of regulating housing may allow for some unusual strategies that could help safeguard its historically disenfranchised populations and vulnerable newcomers alike. But it’s going to take some serious effort and taxpayer dollars, and it won’t happen overnight.

- If you think of Houston’s Inner Loop (the area inside Interstate 610) as equivalent to a decent-sized U.S. city, the “Re-Taking Stock” authors observe that the area is growing faster than many other hot-market U.S. cities of equivalent size, and capturing a pretty healthy share of the overall region’s growth. Appendix 5 shows the construction of a whopping almost 75,000 units inside the Loop in just the 13 years leading up to 2018, almost a fifth of the countywide total on just 5% of the land. That’s really great! Houston’s urban core is flourishing, with new residents, expanding public transportation, abundant and expanding cultural attractions, and all of the other good things that happen when a downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods regain vitality and commerce after decades of nonstop suburbanization. — Urban planning wonk types (I plead guilty to being one of them) sometimes call this aspiration “Smart Growth.” My sense is that Smart Growth isn’t a big part of the discourse in Houston, but I’m struck by how Houston is getting it done — at least the “thickening up of the urban core” part, if maybe not the “restraining suburban sprawl” part in a way that a lot of other cities aren’t.

- What about when you get into what’s happening in individual neighborhoods? “Re-Taking Stock” shows that there is a lot going on, and it’s hard to sum it all up neatly, because it’s highly varied. One of the seven featured neighborhoods, Third Ward, looks like a classic case of gentrification, with a proudly majority-Black, downtown-adjacent neighborhood now being transformed by an influx of mostly affluent, college-educated whites. Even so, as of 2018, Kinder Institute data shows the neighborhood as still being almost two-thirds African American, so the transformation is not (yet?) as complete as it has been in other famously gentrified neighborhoods such as Central East Austin. — This may be in part because of what Kinder Institute researchers call “gentrifiers being gentrified” in Montrose and in other areas west of downtown and Midtown. That doesn’t happen in most cities. In most booming cities, after the residents of neighborhoods comparable to Montrose reach a certain level of affluence and amenity, they agitate via the local political process to slam the door shut on new development. Part of Houston’s secret sauce is that it makes it a lot harder to halt housing growth, and that applies even in some affluent communities.

- Houston’s unique system of regulating housing (less than other places) offers some unique possibilities, maybe not all of which are yet being used to their full potential to solve some of these thorny problems. First of all, the Kinder Institute report makes the diversity of housing types in new construction in Houston abundantly clear. In Austin, by and large, we build huge new apartment buildings, or else we tear down existing single-family houses and replace them with much larger and far more expensive single-family houses, or at best duplexes. — In Houston, what the Kinder Institute calls the “detached townhome” is a real secret weapon for land-efficient, easy-to-build new housing, made with inexpensive wood-framed construction. It is a housing type that’s rare in most cities but close to 34,000 of them were built in Harris County from 2005 to 2018 (Table 1). The detached townhome is versatile — it can be high-end or entry-level, or it can be used for below-market-rate homeownership, or rental for that matter. Maybe some of them could have their ground floors converted to commercial uses someday that maybe sounds crazy, but that was a routine practice in American cities before zoning existed. Unlike large apartment buildings, detached townhomes can be built in small increments, on a single residential lot, if necessary.

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  #2  
Old Posted May 4, 2021, 8:58 PM
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Damn Houston! Doing it right!
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Old Posted May 4, 2021, 9:02 PM
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LA builds a ton of these, too. They call them 'small lot subdivisions'.

https://www.google.com/maps/@34.1084...7i16384!8i8192

https://www.google.com/maps/@34.0890...7i16384!8i8192
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Old Posted May 4, 2021, 9:06 PM
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I'm honestly kind of fascinated by Houston's completely unregulated zoning. Many people already equate it with LA due to its sprawl, but I feel that the lack of regulation is catapulting its already dense areas into its own type of urban typology.

I've never been but I think it would be worth checking out if I'm ever in the Gulf region.
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Old Posted May 4, 2021, 9:19 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by edale View Post
LA builds a ton of these, too. They call them 'small lot subdivisions'.

https://www.google.com/maps/@34.1084...7i16384!8i8192

https://www.google.com/maps/@34.0890...7i16384!8i8192
Those are just townhomes. The Houston ones are detached from each other. We have tons of both types too. The only difference in Houston's case would be the cheap wood-frame part. Don't they get hurricanes in Houston? Multi-story wood-frame buildings are a no-no down here due to hurricanes, they have been banned in South Florida for 30 years.
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Old Posted May 4, 2021, 9:26 PM
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Another difference between Miami and Houston is none of our townhouse/row house developments replaced single family homes. Single family areas for some reason are sacred. Unless they are in ghettos then you can replace single family homes with 10-30-80 story towers, which is ok for some reason.
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Old Posted May 4, 2021, 9:47 PM
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These are what they mean by "detached townhomes." Inner Loop Houston has been transformed by this.

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Old Posted May 4, 2021, 10:08 PM
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Originally Posted by bilbao58 View Post
These are what they mean by "detached townhomes." Inner Loop Houston has been transformed by this.

I don't perceive that these areas are particularly walkable even if they have some density. So it seems you still need a car - I don't think you could even get around by a bike or even transit, from the look of it.
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Old Posted May 4, 2021, 10:23 PM
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I don't perceive that these areas are particularly walkable even if they have some density. So it seems you still need a car - I don't think you could even get around by a bike or even transit, from the look of it.
There is a MetroRail line running south on the street to the far right and running north on the second from the right. The Texas Medical Center is just 3 rail stops to the south, Downtown is about 5 to the north. The Museum of Fine Arts is within walking distance. The building in the upper right corner is the Mies van der Rohe wing of the museum. To its left is the Rafael Moneo wing. The Steven Holl wing had not been built yet when this photo was taken. I lived in this very neighborhood a decade ago.There was a med school student who lived above me who rode his bike to school every day. The blocks are short and square, the same size as downtown blocks, and very easy to walk. Apple Maps aerial photos are not exactly the best representation of things.

Same neighborhood (circa 2015) from the opposite direction:


Last edited by bilbao58; May 4, 2021 at 10:37 PM.
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Old Posted May 4, 2021, 10:24 PM
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Originally Posted by dave8721 View Post
Those are just townhomes. The Houston ones are detached from each other. We have tons of both types too. The only difference in Houston's case would be the cheap wood-frame part. Don't they get hurricanes in Houston? Multi-story wood-frame buildings are a no-no down here due to hurricanes, they have been banned in South Florida for 30 years.
There are some small lot subdivisions that are detached. Here's how units in SLS' are described:

"Not your typical Condo or Townhouse: the residents of a Small-Lot home actually own the land the unit sits on. Since the [Small Lot Subdivision] ordinance does not allow for common foundations or shared, or common, walls between units, there is no Homeowners Association needed or any of the typical fees associated with condominium ownership."

http://burbank.granicus.com/MetaView...meta_id=214091
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Old Posted May 4, 2021, 10:28 PM
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This whole article is like a word salad.

Just looking at this photo. Townhouses with street facing garages where 80% of the space is a concrete driveway is not "doing it right", it's the opposite.

Sometimes development regulations are good. Like when cities ban any parking, driveways or garages facing the front of dwellings.
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Old Posted May 4, 2021, 10:30 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by edale View Post
There are some small lot subdivisions that are detached. Here's how units in SLS' are described:

"Not your typical Condo or Townhouse: the residents of a Small-Lot home actually own the land the unit sits on. Since the [Small Lot Subdivision] ordinance does not allow for common foundations or shared, or common, walls between units, there is no Homeowners Association needed or any of the typical fees associated with condominium ownership."

http://burbank.granicus.com/MetaView...meta_id=214091
Owning the land under the home and avoiding an HOA are significant benefits to having the townhomes fully detached.

Are there CCRs that regulate things like the color one can paint these townhomes?
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Old Posted May 4, 2021, 10:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The North One View Post
This whole article is like a word salad.

Just looking at this photo. Townhouses with street facing garages where 80% of the space is a concrete driveway is not "doing it right", it's the opposite.

Sometimes development regulations are good. Like when cities ban any parking, driveways or garages facing the front of dwellings.
You're right about the driveways. It's terrible. It's also pretty similar to huge swathes of Toronto, though. The better ones push the fronts of the townhouses up to the street and run an alley-like driveway down the middle of the lot.
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Old Posted May 4, 2021, 10:49 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by edale View Post
There are some small lot subdivisions that are detached. Here's how units in SLS' are described:

"Not your typical Condo or Townhouse: the residents of a Small-Lot home actually own the land the unit sits on. Since the [Small Lot Subdivision] ordinance does not allow for common foundations or shared, or common, walls between units, there is no Homeowners Association needed or any of the typical fees associated with condominium ownership."

http://burbank.granicus.com/MetaView...meta_id=214091
A small lot subdivision just sounds like a fancy way of describing a rowhome (or terraced housing or an attached townhouse, if you prefer). Each owner owns the land like any single family home - no condo, hoa, etc. Also tearing one down doesn't lead to the neighboring house falling down even though the walls directly about each other.
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Old Posted May 4, 2021, 11:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The North One View Post
This whole article is like a word salad.

Just looking at this photo. Townhouses with street facing garages where 80% of the space is a concrete driveway is not "doing it right", it's the opposite.

Sometimes development regulations are good. Like when cities ban any parking, driveways or garages facing the front of dwellings.
People here have cars and need a place to park them and these townhouses incorporate that need as well as a decent about of living area in a small footprint. We almost bought one of these but build quality was not on same level as our SFH in the suburbs despite 2x the cost and some have restrictive HOA that dictates what you can/ can't do in your yard.
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Old Posted May 4, 2021, 11:08 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by The North One View Post
This whole article is like a word salad.

Just looking at this photo. Townhouses with street facing garages where 80% of the space is a concrete driveway is not "doing it right", it's the opposite.

Sometimes development regulations are good. Like when cities ban any parking, driveways or garages facing the front of dwellings.
Yeah I wish these were built up to the street and maybe there was an alley in the back of these like you see in Northeastern/Mid-Atlantic cities.

I've said for several years now. Houston has built up a lot of density, but it's not a good kind of density. That photo of the neighborhood above looks really impressive from the air, but then you ask....where can the people that live in this area walk to? I'd be bored walking in that area because all I'll be seeing is driveways and mediocre looking townhomes.
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Old Posted May 4, 2021, 11:15 PM
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Houston's densification is about as good as you can get considering Houston doesn't have traditional use-based zoning, but does have some level of form-based zoning which includes setbacks and parking minimums (and unfortunately, no requirement to build sidewalks).

Another issue is that - unfortunately - the city lacks alleys, which means there's no out-of-the-way place to stick the off-street parking. This is particularly the case because typically these mini-developments happen through the replacement of a few houses at a time (with say three new houses where one suburban home used to be) meaning master-planning is impossible.

But given the limitations, somewhere like this is becoming pretty close to a rowhouse neighborhood.
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Old Posted May 4, 2021, 11:21 PM
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Another thing that has always struck me as odd about Houston's 'urban' residential neighborhoods are the complete... and I do mean complete... lack of retail of any kind mixed into the equation, which you'd think would come about organically at least here and there in a city that has no zoning laws to speak of.
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Old Posted May 4, 2021, 11:23 PM
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If they can get these down to one parking space it'll do a lot for both the cityscape and affordability. Maybe they can also do some shared driveways if alleys don't exist.
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Old Posted May 4, 2021, 11:27 PM
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Originally Posted by Ant131531 View Post
but then you ask....where can the people that live in this area walk to? I'd be bored walking in that area because all I'll be seeing is driveways and mediocre looking townhomes.
The Holocaust Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Museum of Natural Science, the Asia Society, the Contemporary Arts Museum, Lawndale Art Center, several churches, at least one hospital, the Children's Museum, Hermann Park, Miller Outdoor Theatre, Houston Zoo, to name just what I can think of off the top of my head.
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