Kind of Like Houston

It’s been a very warm and dry winter in Utah--the warmest and driest that I can remember in the 30 plus years I’ve lived here. This Christmas was the only the second brown one I’ve experienced in this state. Usually we’ll have one to feet of snow on the ground by now—snow that has been on the ground for at least six weeks. But all we’ve received is two brief snow storms that have dumped less than an inch each time. For the most part the dry, warm weather has been nice and has extended the amount of time we’ve been able to do things outside.  I’ve been able to play football and basketball with the boys outside most of the winter. I’ve also run more than normal this time of year; the warmer weather is a good incentive to add an extra mile or two to my runs.

It’s weather like this that has been one of the big reasons that Marathon Girl and I have thought about relocating to places like Houston or Phoenix if the opportunity should ever arise. It’s been nice not to be cooped up in our home for months on end. And even though the kids have complained (but only a little) about the lack of snow for sledding, I think they’ve enjoyed riding their bikes and playing with their friends in 40 or 50 degree weather.

The only downside to this warmth is that that Utah isn’t pretty in the winter when there’s no snow on the ground. The northern part of the state is an ugly brown gray mess. When we were in Houston in January years ago at least there was some green. And Phoenix always looks like a desert, albeit a pretty one, no matter what time of year it is.

Still, I’m grateful for the warmth. For now it’s as close Houston or some other warm climate as we’re going to get.

Houston: WTF?

I’ve made no secret of the fact that Marathon Girl and I would like to relocate our family to the Houston area in the next couple of years. And since the town’s always on our mind, I take the time to occasionally read about the goings on in that fair city. After the hurricane ripped through the area in September, I was proud to see that Houstonians got together, cleaned up the city and got on with their lives. And when they got a dusting of snow in December, I figured we could live with the occasional cold weather – even if the snow was one of the three things we wanted to get away from.

But then I see a story in the Houston Chronicle like this and it makes me want to reconsider all of my plans about moving out there:

Public funds to pay for private debt

Houston taxpayers could start footing the bill to help first-time homebuyers pay off debts and improve their credit scores, under a proposal before City Council this week.

The “Credit Score Enhancement Program” will give up to $3,000 in grants to individuals who are trying to qualify for mortgages through the city’s homebuyers assistance program. City officials say some applicants fall short of eligibility by only 10 or 20 points on their credit scores, and paying off some debt balances can quickly improve their numbers.

The proposal has aroused critics who say the city should not use public funds to help people pay down car loans, credit card balances, or other debts — even if the slight credit bump would help them realize the dream of home- ownership.

Read the rest of the article here.

I don’t go around asking my neighbors for money to pay off any debts I may have incurred. The last thing I want to do is to be forced to pay off the debts of someone else. Does it even occur to these politicians that maybe if people learned to pay off debts and improve their credit score on their own they just might do a better job of paying off their mortgage once they’re able to obtain one?

Idiotic programs like this are something I’d expect from cities like Chicago, New York, Los Angeles, and Eagle Mountain (Utah). You know, cities with politicians that don’t mind using tax payers as ATMs for just about everything.

But Houston?

Does that independent, Texas sprit not exist in the state’s largest city?

Someone please tell me this is a joke.

If not, I’ll have to consider relocating San Antonio, Dallas, or some other place in the Lone Star state that actually is run by politicians that believe in freedom and personal liberty.

Yes, We Still Want to Move to Houston

Ike Smashed Through Houston

A friend writes: Does Houston really seem like a place you'd want to live? What with the susceptibility to hurricanes and all?

My answer: Hurricane Ike hasn’t damped my or Marathon Girl’s enthusiasm for eventually moving to the Houston area. (Though Galveston was never really on our list of places to live, Ike has stopped us from wanting to move any closer to the Texas coast than Houston.)

I don’t think there’s a city in the world that’s not susceptible to natural disasters. In Utah all it would take is one good earthquake and most of the homes and infrastructure would be reduced to rubble and cause far more damage and deaths than a category 2 hurricane. I’d rather take my chances on living in a place when I know several days in advance that a natural disaster is on its way than one I couldn’t see coming.

All Ike has done is let us know that after we move to the Houston area, we need to be sure to have plenty of food, water, and other basic supplies on hand in case a hurricane comes through and we’re without power or other supplies for an extended period of time. (We have all that now, anyway.) Besides the people of Houston seem to have a plucky spirit and doubt they’ll let a something like Ike ruin their lives. They’ll pull through it. Thought there seems to be quite a bit of damage from the storm, I bet the city and surrounding area will be back to normal very soon.

And to all my Houston readers, I hope you’re all doing well. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

Houston, My Kind of City II

Houston, Texas

A reader, who knows of Marathon Girl and my fondness for Houston, forwarded me a great article from The New York Sun that compares New York City to Houston.

New Yorkers are rightly proud of their city's renaissance over the last two decades, but when it comes to growth, Gotham pales beside Houston. Between 2000 and 2007, the New York region grew by just 2.7%, while greater Houston — the country's sixth-largest metropolitan area — grew by 19.4%, expanding to 5.6 million people from 4.7 million.

To East Coast urbanites, Houston's appeal must be mysterious: The city isn't all that economically productive — earnings per employee in Manhattan are almost double those in Houston — and its climate is unpleasant, with stultifying humidity and more days with temperatures exceeding 90 degrees than any other large American city. Since these two major factors in urban growth don't explain Houston's success, what does?

Houston's great advantage, it turns out, is its ability to provide affordable living for middle-income Americans, something that is increasingly hard to achieve in the Big Apple. That Houston is a middle-class city is mirrored in the nature of its economy. Both greater Houston and Manhattan have about 2 million employees.

When Marathon Girl and I visited four years ago, we were surprised at how inexpensive the city was yet still provided all the amenities and services that we’d want if we lived there. It was the last thing we expected from such a big city, but our time in Houston and the surrounding area was enough to make us seriously consider living there. (Honestly, it’s just a matter of time until we end up moving there.)

We were especially floored by the low housing prices. The reason for the low housing prices are addressed in the article

Houston… has always been gung ho about development. Houston's builders have managed — better than in any other American city — to make the case to the public that restrictions on development will make the city less affordable to the less successful.

Of course, Houston's development isn't costless. Like most growing places, it must struggle with water issues, sanitation, and congestion. For environmentalists who worry about carbon dioxide emissions and global warming, Houston's rapid growth is particularly worrisome, since Houstonians are among the biggest carbon emitters in the country — all those humid 90-degree days mean a lot of electricity to cool off, and all that driving gobbles plenty of gas.

But Houston's success shows that a relatively deregulated free-market city, with a powerful urban growth machine, can do a much better job of taking care of middle-income Americans than the more "progressive" big governments of the Northeast and the West Coast.

Taking the cost of living, salaries (they’re much higher in NYC), taxes, etc. residents of Houston come out with more money in their pockets and a higher quality of life. That’s not to say that the city’s perfect. Houston does have hot, muggy weather most of the year and higher property taxes than NYC (and Utah, for that matter). But overall, it’s impressive that a city as big as Houston can be such a middle class magnet and a good place to raise a family.

Since I’ve been more vocal about my desire to live there, it’s amazing how many friends, co-workers, and acquaintances have family members who have relocated from Utah to the Houston area in the last five years. All say that the friends/family who moved there really like it.

(It should be noted that I have about a half-dozen regular blog readers who live there or have lived there at some point and have nothing but positive things to say about the city and living there.)

Yeah, I think relocating to Houston is simply a matter of time.

Houston: My Kind of City

Houston, Texas

This article makes me want to move to Houston. The article, I think, accurately portrays the city as one of opportunity and growth. And even though I was only in Houston for a few days, it impressed me much more than other "trendy" cities I've visited.

The article makes a similar point:

Ultimately, it’s a question of defining what makes a city great. Many city planners today focus largely on aesthetics, the arts, and the perception of being “cool.” Academics and many economic-development experts link urban success to cities’ appeal to the “creative class” of college-educated young people. In this calculus, the traditional practice of gauging a city’s success by studying patterns of population or employment growth, or noting the opportunities available for working-class or middle-class families to flourish, rarely registers as important. One prominent academic, Rutgers University’s Paul Gottlieb, has even offered an elegant formula for what he calls “growth without growth”—focusing on increasing per-capita incomes without expanding either population or employment. Indeed, Gottlieb suggests that successful post-industrial cities might well do best if they actually “minimize” the influx of new people and jobs.

Such an approach may work, at least superficially, in an attractive older city such as Chicago, New York, or Boston, but it’s an unlikely model for most cities in a country where the population is expected to reach 420 million by 2050. Growth-without-growth cities might be great to visit, and they might prove exciting homes for the restless young or the rich, but it is doubtful that they can create the jobs or the housing for more than a small portion of our future urban population. For these and other reasons, the Houston model of the opportunity city—welcoming new jobs and new families—may prove far more relevant to the American future.

Marathon Girl and I spent several days in the Houston area four years ago and loved it. In the next five years -- before our kids are too old -- we'd both like to move out of Utah and establish roots elsewhere. Ever since our trip to Houston, that city has always been in the forefront of our minds as a good area to move to. (Followed by Denver, Phoenix, and Seattle.)

No one knows what the future holds but I wouldn't mind becoming a Texan if the oppurtunity presented itself.