The Gentrification of Texas
As the cost of housing skyrockets, Texans are getting pushed out and left behind. The stakes couldn’t be higher.
In early 2020, half of Texas adults reported that they were spending too much on housing and that it was difficult to find affordable options in the neighborhoods they want to live in.
In this issue:
1. A Visual Tour of Gentrified Architecture
2. Kicked to the Curb: A Day in the Harris County Eviction Court
3. Cities Have Struggled to Protect Affordable Housing. The Community Land Trust Model Offers a Solution.
4. The Last Days of San Antonio’s Oldest and Largest Public Housing Project
5. Stranded in Dallas: How Low-Income Residents are Making do Without Public Transit
The findings, from the Texas Lyceum’s annual poll, shouldn’t have surprised anyone who has been paying rent or property taxes here over the past decade. Since 2010, the median home value in Texas has increased by more than 50 percent, rising from $136,000 to $207,000. In some neighborhoods, like East Austin, the median home value has doubled during the same decade. Housing has long been considered “affordable” if it consumed no more than 30 percent of a family’s income, but we might need to set a new benchmark. By this metric, more than half of Texas renters cannot afford the places they live. Someone earning minimum wage here would have to work 91 hours a week to afford the average one-bedroom apartment.
The consequences of this are far-reaching. Where you live correlates with nearly every major indicator of health and well-being, from the quality of education you receive to the kind of job you get to the health care your family can access. It determines what you eat, how far you commute, and how much you pay for government services. And yet, while some Texans are afforded the opportunity to make such a consequential decision, an increasing majority are denied that choice, relegated to the fringes of our cities and economies.
Texas’ population is projected to grow by 30 percent—more than 10 million people—by 2040. How we will accommodate that growth is now a fundamental question facing the state. Will our housing policies continue to push low-income and minority Texans to far-flung suburbs to find affordable housing? Will we protect and prioritize our most vulnerable residents as climate change wreaks havoc on our coasts? And will we chain ourselves to the carbon emissions that result from the kind of car-centric sprawl we have relied upon to accommodate growth in decades past?
Our March/April special issue marks the official start of the Observer’s housing beat—and we need your help to keep it going. We launched a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of raising $10,000 to invest in our housing coverage. Your donation will directly support the production of this critical coverage, allowing staff to travel across the state to talk to those struggling with the rising cost of housing. Donate here. —Megan Kimble, senior editor
In East Austin, in Houston’s Freedmen’s Town and Third Ward and Montrose, in Dallas’ Bishop Arts and Oak Cliff, among other gentrifying and -fied neighborhoods, the architectural language (what architects call “vernacular”) has become inseparable from the vocabulary of policy, where other complicated words, like “displacement,” “segregation,” “inequity,” and “NIMBYism,” are warring furiously. Read more.
Last year, at least 62,548 people faced eviction in Harris County, records show. Despite the number of people affected, there are no recent studies focused on evictions in Texas, said Marcia Johnson, a Texas Southern University law professor. The lack of baseline data makes determining how to prevent evictions a real challenge, she said. For example, Harris County evictions increased dramatically from 55,000 cases filed in 2015 to 76,000 cases in 2016, and then remained higher from 2017 to 2019. No one knows why. Read more.
In 1974, while he was an undergraduate at the University of Texas at Austin, John Henneberger started volunteering with a community group in Clarksville, a former Freedman’s Town near downtown Austin. The neighborhood, which was then still predominantly black, lacked basic infrastructure like sewers and sidewalks, and a proposed crosstown expressway threatened to wipe it out entirely. Until he saw the conditions in Clarksville, Henneberger says, he had always assumed the government treated its citizens equally. He was appalled by the blatantly racist response from local government when community members tried to organize. The Observer spoke with Henneberger, a 2014 MacArthur “genius grant” fellow, about the future of fair housing in an increasingly unaffordable state. Read more.
Texans have seen the cost of housing skyrocket over the past decade. As a result, populations of “at-risk groups”—low-income residents and black and Hispanic families—have declined in city centers and concentrated in outlying suburbs, where housing is cheaper. In January, an analysis by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas found that Houston has gentrified faster than any other Texas city, with neighborhoods near downtown seeing spikes in median income as affluent people moved in. But no city is immune. The same thing has happened in Austin and Dallas and, to a lesser extent, San Antonio, where change appears all but inevitable. Cities have largely struggled to protect affordable housing in gentrifying neighborhoods. Once the engine of capital revs up and investors begin to speculate on a plot of land’s future value, the machine is hard to stop. The community land trust model offers an elegant solution: By separating ownership of a house from the land beneath it, you can ensure the home remains affordable—permanently. Read more.
The Alazán-Apache Courts are San Antonio’s largest and oldest public housing development. Built between 1939 and 1942 on the city’s poor and overwhelmingly Hispanic West Side, the courts consist of 685 low-rise apartments split into clusters on either side of Guadalupe Street, less than a mile from downtown. The courts have long been a hub of Mexican American culture, as generations of West Siders have moved in and out of the development, including famed conjunto performers and future scholars. Now the San Antonio Housing Authority plans to wipe the courts, and their history, away. Read more.
The Dallas-Fort Worth metro area, which added more than 100,000 jobs in 2019, leads the nation in job growth and has boomed with new residents and amenities. But some neighborhoods—particularly south side communities like Fair Park, where 1 in 3 households is below the poverty line—have been cut off from that development. Dallas’ paltry public transit system makes it difficult to reach northern and southern suburbs, where new jobs and services have clustered, without a car. Even as their city grows around them, low- and middle-income residents are effectively shut out. Read more.
For years, community organizers in colonias have fought for better drainage, housing improvements, and basic infrastructure. In makeshift homes relegated to the outskirts of cities, colonia residents have long been left to fend for themselves. As climate change intensifies storms and flooding, advocates in colonias are grappling with a particularly acute version of a question that poor communities around the country are facing: how, or whether, to keep rebuilding in a place that won’t stop flooding. Read more / leer en español.
This page will host all of our housing stories from the special issue. Check back for updates.