Housing prices in Texas’s four major cities — Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston — are at record highs. John Nova Lomax, "Texas Monthly"’s senior editor, wonders whether Texas is the best market in the country these days or if it’s severely overvalued.
"Think"’s Krys Boyd talked with Lomax about contributing factors of “The Great Texas Housing Boom” as well as its social and economic repercussions.
Lomax discusses the lack of affordable housing in major cities, the makeup of different downtowns, pinpointing gentrification and more. Listen to the entire conversation below:
Some highlights from the interview:
On Houston Heights neighborhood in Houston:
“Five years ago it was sort of a tapestry of mixed income, mixed race. Lots of older housing stock...Since then, I’ve seen this on a granular level, sort of day-by-day, it’s gotten less multi-ethnic and less mixed income and more expensive and more modern housing and far less historical. Although it’s sort of a faux historical neighborhood where they’re replacing actual old bungalows with four-story town houses that look like the New Orleans Garden District.
The Heights was always sort of exotic to me. And when I first moved there it retained that character that I had been fascinated sort of with as a child, and now it’s just changing so fast."
On the residential density phenomenon:
“It seemed to have been marketed initially towards bringing young people back into the city. But that’s not what has happened. What has happened instead — mainly 50-something, semi-retired or retirees, empty nesters [are moving in] because they and only they can afford the rent or mortgages on these places.”
On Dallas keeping up with density and growth:
“From what I’ve seen in the last 10, 20 years, [Dallas is] doing a much better job of keeping up with the growth than [Houston is]. Now given that, I’m sure that people up there might say the same about Houston, and the grass is always greener, etc., etc.”
On rising property values:
“It’s good. But there’s the very real bottom-line factor of your taxes going up. And if you were in a position to sell, but you needed to stay in Texas, where would you go? It’s this Catch-22 that I think a lot of us are in.”
On Austin’s successful downtown:
“I think the first draw is [Lady Bird] lake. That enticed a lot of people to move down there. And after that, of course came the Whole Foods. The key is a grocery store. What’s the point of living downtown if you have to drive to the grocery store?”
On Austin’s lack of racial diversity:
“There’s this sensibility around town of sort of this arm’s length-embrace of Asian culture as filtered through California, where, you know, yoga is sort of the most obvious and time-honored tradition in that vein, but also you see Tibetan prayer places. They aren’t what you’d see in Chinatown in Houston or Irving where Dallas has a large Asian population. That area has become so California-ized and well, you know, white.”
On Dallas’ lively downtown:
“Years and years ago, I walked the length of Downtown Dallas late one Tuesday night, and it was just a void of people. You could have filmed ‘Walking Dead’ there. I did it again here this summer, and it was sort of amazing how much life Downtown Dallas had. As [Jim] Schutze said, very few of the old buildings had been torn down because of ‘neglect and asbestos’ I think he told me. That’s what kept Dallas preserved as sort of a fly in amber.”
“That’s just been the story of most of my friends lives over the last 10 or 15 years. I’ve just seen so many people who came in when nobody else wanted it and made it into a really cool place, and then they’re being displaced and their old houses torn down and you know, giant condos built on top of where they used to live.
I don’t know how to stop it or if you want to stop it or what. And there’s a lot to be said about the sort of serendipity of all these people living next to each other — like walking down the street, you run into somebody, go back to their house and write a song. That just doesn’t seem to be happening as much.”
On San Antonio being the place to move to of the four major cities:
“I guess I’m highest on San Antonio right now just because it seems to be the best bargain. Speaking from my personal point of view, I enjoy the history and the culture and the cheaper access to the Hill Country that you get there, than you would get in Austin, certainly. And it’s reasonably close to Port Aransas. The dining scene is picking up, and it’s not quite as touristy and sleepy as it once was. Of the five cities that are already well-known, I think San Antonio has the most forward momentum.”