Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Why Supply Solutions Fail to Provide Affordability

A lot of talk has been had lately on how housing supply needs to catch up with demand in order to lower housing costs. But, in the world of big and frequent data it’s nearly impossible for affordable housing providers to get financing for more affordable housing, especially when the building cycle begins to turn and the market genies begin to talk about oversupply. Here in Texas two articles in the past 24-hours have raised the question: Do we have too much Multifamily in Houston?

Yesterday the Houston Chronicle published an interview on how the Houston MF market has gone past the tipping point and will begin to slow down due to oversupply. While the developer, Worthing Cos., focuses on high-end MF rental, the fact of the matter is that market watchers have read the tea leaves and feel that the Houston Market needs to cut back on supply.

This sentiment was reiterated on the news clips from the Texas A&M Real Estate Center’s RECON report, today. Taking information from market analyst Marcus & Millichap, RECON notes that there just isn’t enough demand for the units currently in the pipeline.

Just a couple of weeks ago Joe Cortright, over at City Observatory, had a nice piece on the impacts that sunken oil prices have meant to the housing market in North Dakota. Texas A&M also did some great work on analyzing the effects of low oil on housing markets in Midland and Odessa, Texas. It’s clear from the data that low oil prices = fewer jobs = lower housing costs.

While it’s certainly true that more supply certainly leads to lower cost, it’s important to remember that market analysts, builders, developers and housing financiers are keenly aware of what’s going on in the macro and micro economies where they work and invest. They are quick to pull out or at least slow down on what and where they build. This is what makes it so hard for supply to be the simple answer to our housing affordability needs.

Let’s keep looking though, cause lord knows we need more affordable housing.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Speak Often And People Pay Attention

Turns out, that talking about something just might bring it to other people's attention. This seems like one of those snarky comments you here from your teens, but it’s also part of the public policy research that the Comparative Agendas Project is working to uncover.

I found this info through a blog post on Next City on the decline of federal funding for Community Development. Even though the focus was on CDBG funding, a closer look at the overall discussion on housing, community development and other topic of not to housers and community builders may be important.

I’ll need to spend more time on the site to better use it in the future, but even a quick look can lead one to see that trends, when overlapped with history, are easy to follow.  The chart below clearly shows a steady increase in housing topics in the media from 1960 until 1972. Of course there were several key programs that were created out of this period, including HUD’s HOME program, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and many others. Another uptick from 1984 to 1988 could be the result of growing interest in building the low-income housing tax credit program.

Needless to say, this is interesting stuff and it’s easy to draw the conclusion that when topics begin trending upwards it’s possible to get real change. Let’s all try to raise our voices a couple more times a week or month and see if it has an impact in the long run.


Monday, March 21, 2016

Arts and Community Development -

This morning’s headlines at Next City brought me to a short but inspiring story from Cleveland. Participatory planning has always been an interest to me. The ups and downs of how cities, neighborhoods and even states interact and create participation is a difficult one, to say the least. In Cleveland the use of voting on how City planning monies are spent led to the creation of a mobile recording studio that will help preserve the oral history of the North Collinwood neighborhood.

I love the fact idea of using voting on these types of projects, since it appears to increase civic engagement and bring ideas to the surface that the neighbors want, not what educated planners think they need. (Though sometimes planners do know what needs to be done before everyone else does.)

Another part of the piece mentioned the Artist housing program. I’ll be looking into that one further.

Happy Monday,


Monday, February 22, 2016

Tiny homes in... Dallas!?!

It's official, tiny homes are everywhere. In the land of everything BIGGER is BETTER the tiny home movement has been growing slowly. Here in Austin, tiny homes and converted RVs for rental units are numerous and wide spread, but the City of Dallas has been slow to adopt and "grow" this type of small urban form. 

Not any more, now a BIG home builder has jumped in the tiny home fray and believes he can commoditize a movement that has largely been focused on the DIYers. Though I'm not certain we want to see 500+ tiny home subdivisions in the near future, it certainly isn't the end of the world if a few of us downsize, or right size our living arrangements. 

And remember, tiny homes are nothing new. Calcasieu Lumber Company's "kit cottages" were common throughout Austin in the 1920's and onward. West Campus, East Austin and Hyde Park have numerous examples still used as small rental and even home ownership units.  Let's all hope that the new and the old can continue to provide abodes for singles and families for years to come. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Next Big Thing in Design

News that the design firm IDEO has joined the kyu collective is big news in a lot of ways. IDEO has been a touchstone agency over the past 30 years designing and improving some of the more influential products in our global economy. From computers, bikes, robots, medical devices, you name it IDEO has used the concepts of design to improve products for years. 

In the past several years they have shifted focus gradually, applying their design process and knowledge to systems likes schools, public feedback and organizational development. The decision to join the kyu collective is big for a few reasons. 

The kyu collective is group of agencies that have a broad set of skills and focus. Although each will continue to work independently on their core capacities, the collective effort will allow them to build new strategies that each of them may have a passion for but not enough internal expertise to make a real impact. Tim Brown, CEO for IDEO put all of these thoughts and concepts into great clarity in a piece published on Medium yesterday. 

So why am I posting about it here, other then the fact I'm an obvious fan of IDEO? Well, I believe that collaboration is the key to building better communities and housing solutions. Tim Brown touched on that in his piece, and I'll be watching carefully for updates and news in the future. 

Here in Texas a much smaller scale collaboration resulted in the development of the Rapido housing program based out of the Community Development Corporation of Brownsville. Using design expertise from BC Workshop, community feed back and consumer input has created a small and potentially very impact full housing program here in Texas. 

I'll say it again, I'm really looking forward to the creations that IDEO and the kyu collective come up with in the near future. I hope we'll all learn something to apply to our programs, too. 


Friday, January 15, 2016

Building Cheaper Doesn't Equal Affordable

A short story in City Observatory this week hit the nail on the head for me. I regularly have discussions and read articles about how building costs need to come down and that bringing down the cost of SF homes through modular construction will be the silver bullet for affordable housing. Well Daniel Hertz, over at City Observatory wrote the perfect piece to counter these arguments. Take a look over at here

Monday, February 9, 2015


It's one of the hardest problems in housing. It vexes all of us in the field and I don't think I've ever seen a good solution, or at least one that was really successful. Is it time to give up on solving the problem of gentrification, or simply continue to place band-aids on a leaking dam?

Well, the city of light hasn't given up. Paris is going to give it another try, by buying up hundreds, if not thousands of existing units and preserving them for low-income residents. Though real estate investors and owners alike probably loath the idea of such a program, it's not so far fetched an idea.

Vienna has been tackling housing issues like this for decades and nearly half of apartment homes there are owned or controlled by the City's social housing cooperative. Based on reviews by several universities and general publications, the system appears to be running well and may be one of the few programs that successfully prevents, or at least lessens, the impacts of gentrification. 

My fair City of Austin, Texas has more than it's share of gentrification problems. With rapid growth and increasing land and home values, everyday sees more families leaving central city neighborhoods due to the loss of affordable homes. We've got several groups working on ideas (i.e. HackOurCity, Housing Works Austin, Livable City Austin, etc.). Who will get it right? Maybe no one, but maybe someone will start us down a path that might just lead to a more affordable and economically diverse community. I for one think that's what made Austin do great in the first place.