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The Geography of Housing Affordability in Texas

Housing affordability is highly variant from city to city, neighborhood to neighborhood. Don't buy the hype about the Lone Star state.
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(Photo: Leena Robinson/Shutterstock)

(Photo: Leena Robinson/Shutterstock)

Individual mental maps fuel the migration of people and jobs. One myth has the Sun Belt dancing circles around the Rust Belt in terms of manufacturing jobs. Labor in the North is too expensive. Those damn unions killed the goose laying golden eggs. So industry fled to the right-to-work South. A Minneapolis journalist, perhaps feeling giddy after Ohio State University taught Alabama a lesson on the football field, discovered that "The Midwest Is Outpacing the South in Creating Manufacturing Jobs." We won't let facts get in the way of a good migration story. Fact is, migrants don't care about such analysis. The Sun Belt is the champion of the blue-collar middle class. The crown jewel of the supposed New South is Texas, land of cheap housing thanks to libertarian sensibilities. The entire country is moving to the Lone Star state as they once did to California.

Texas is a red state. In red states, according to Richard Florida, "the American dream of a big house with a backyard and a couple of cars is much more achievable." Why? "Thanks to loose land-use regulations and low labor costs, detached, single-family homes can be churned out quite cheaply, generating more middle-wage, low-skill jobs." Hogwash. Feeling giddy after Ohio State steamrolled the University of Oregon in the national championship game for college football, looking at Texas housing affordability with a more discerning eye:

You’ll have more disposable income if you buy a McMansion in Beaumont than in Houston, for example. But the real details get more interesting if you break it down by Census tract, which the maps allow you to do. [Take a look] at a hypothetical Houston family where one partner is a librarian and the other is a systems analyst, with two kids ...

... Even with a very, very healthy annual income of $160,000, in that example, there are parts of the city that are essentially off-limits to the family, and others where finding housing would be legitimately challenging. There’s no need to cry for the poor imaginary family who can’t afford to live in West University Place, but it’s interesting to see a map recognize that cities, like states, aren’t monoliths.

"Cities, like states, aren't monoliths." Red states versus blue states is a useless abstraction. Within the policy geography of Texas, housing affordability is highly variant from city to city, neighborhood to neighborhood. "Houston can be cheap if you are into eating noodles with garlic butter every night and you’re happy to rent a tiny apartment." Don't buy the red state hype.

Don't buy the blue state hype. Just as a clever someone can dis-aggregate the Houston real estate market, another clever someone can dis-aggregate the Brooklyn real estate market:

Williamsburg's prices increased 174% in 8 years.  This is, to say the least, not representative of Brooklyn. It's nearly three times as large as the percentage increase in any other area. Community Districts 2 and 6 seem to cover many of the other areas that had large increases. And large swaths of the borough saw either decrease or stagnation.

In Brooklyn, concerning the increase in residential price per square foot from 2004-2012, "large swaths of the borough saw either decrease or stagnation." In many parts of Brooklyn, housing became more affordable. What does blue state New York have to do with this geography? Nothing.