2022 in review: Backyards, rooftops, windfalls, buyouts, downtowns and big ideas

FEATURES :  Dec. 30, 2022

Top posts from 2022

From the perspective of the Urban Edge, 2022 was a year when tried-and-true ideas—the utility of a garage apartment and the wisdom of living in close-knit communities—gained new life.

It was also the year we observed the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Harvey, which transported us back to that defining disaster and prompted us to look forward. Meanwhile, more Houstonians looked to renewable energy for their homes, and the pandemic’s effect on office work led to renewed visions of a more residential downtown. 

Explore these insights and more in our top 10 articles from 2022. 

The center of Harris County's population has moved outside the Loop

What we wrote: Since the year 2000, when the center of the population was in the Heights, Harris County’s population has grown by about 40%, while its unincorporated population has grown more than twice that rate, with 900,000 new residents. With that growth coming largely in the western and north-western suburbs, it is no surprise that Harris County’s population's center is now outside the Loop. This shift only takes into account Harris County’s population distribution, as the wider metropolitan area population is growing in all directions.

Since then: American Community Survey data for 2021 (released in 2022) shows this trend continuing in the wider Houston metro area, with Houston, Dallas and other areas seeing rapid growth in counties outside their city centers. Fort Bend County, for example, added three times as many residents as Harris County did between 2019 and 2021. 

Houston hopes more homeowners will embrace housing literally in their backyard

What we wrote: In more ways than one, accessory dwelling units such as garage apartments are a hidden treasure in Houston’s real estate landscape. ADUs can also be an important solution to the region’s housing shortage. The city of Houston already has thousands of units of accessory housing, but there is potential for much more. Policy discussions and community engagement this year are seeking to help clear the way. 

Since then: The city’s ADU plan received recognition for best practices from the American Planning Association’s Texas Chapter. Rice Architecture’s Construct program built another concept ADU, this one showcasing an energy-efficient design in First Ward. 

Houston’s newest housing development is big on neighborly ties

What we wrote: Houston’s first cohousing project is underway, a residential development that is planned and financed by a group of strangers who agree to become neighbors and create a community in the process. The East End property will have 33 private units on a 1.5-acre lot, along with shared gardens, workshops, outdoor spaces, and a 4,000 square-foot “Common House,” for gatherings, meetings and other social activities.

Since then: Site work is underway, and the project is slated to be completed in 2023. Houston developer David Kelley is partnering with CoHousing Houston, providing project management services and assisting with the financing.

What happened after foreclosures ripped through two Harris County neighborhoods?

What we wrote: The foreclosure rate within Tract 5502 in Greenspoint was 16 times higher than Harris County overall. In Bear Creek’s Tract 5422, there were more than 1,400 foreclosures. These two areas had different recoveries that speak to the effects of racism, housing policy, and housing quality on neighborhoods. 

Since then: Houston had more ZIP codes become majority-renter in recent years, including Greenspoint. Houston was one of two cities where six ZIP codes switched from being homeowner- to renter-majorities over the past decade, and single-family rentals, such as those that became common in Tract 5502, are becoming increasingly common.  

Houston’s untapped powerhouse: rooftop solar?

What we wrote: Single-family residential solar permitting in Houston has grown exponentially, with the annual number increasing eightfold from 2017 to 2021, according to data provided by Houston Public Works. The city’s rooftop capacity is one of the biggest in the country for metro areas, but it’s also one of the most underutilized. Nevertheless, the city has ambitious goals to generate more electricity from the sun. 

Since then: In 2022, Houston partnered with Solar United Neighbors to organize another citywide solar co-op to help residents leverage group-buying power to lower the cost of solar installations. A previous effort in 2021 had 300 participants, according to the city. Moreover, the Inflation Reduction Act increased the solar tax credit to 30% from 26% and extended this higher rate through 2032.

After Hurricane Harvey, flood insurance created windfalls, fault lines

What we wrote: The suburb of Friendswood serves as a case study for how flaws in the federal approach to flood insurance and disaster recovery aid resulted in fractured outcomes even among similarly situated middle-class neighbors after Hurricane Harvey. 

Since then: While Houston was spared a major tropical storm this year, Florida was not. After being pummeled by hurricanes Fiona and Ian, the state is now expected to adopt legislation requiring flood insurance for all policyholders participating in the state-backed nonprofit insurance firm, Citizens Property Insurance Corp. This would make Florida the first state to enact a flood insurance requirement beyond the current flood plain rules required by the federal government. 

With new incentives, Harris County hopes to gain buy-in for buyouts

What we wrote: To further encourage homeowners to relocate to less flood-prone areas, Harris County is offering up to $35,000 in incentives through its Voluntary Buyout Program Guidelines, including assistance toward down payments, new home repairs, and moving expenses. The new incentives factor in economic status and also make an effort to retain residents within county borders.

Since then: More than 4,000 homeowners have volunteered for buyouts. As of December, about 1,600 property buyouts had been approved, and 913 of those had been completed out of Harris County’s seven buyout funding programs. The total cost of the 1,600 buyouts is estimated at over $500 million.  

Is Houston really better off without zoning? One planner makes the case in ‘Arbitrary Lines’

What we wrote: Houston—usually criticized for its lack of zoning—has done a few things right, which planner Nolan Gray dedicates a chapter to explain in his book “Arbitrary Lines.” He argues that not being zoned has made Houston more flexible and responsive. It has been able to build much more housing than zoned cities, he says, and local policies are getting better at exerting influence over development patterns.

Since then: Houston continues being Houston, using a mix of policy reforms to encourage development without zoning. The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County’s approach to transit-oriented development is rekindling hopes for smarter planning efforts along Houston’s bus and rail corridors, and the city’s recent reforms to parking minimums have helped speed up walkable development projects.  

With hybrid work here to stay, downtown Houston is looking for office conversion candidates

What we wrote: Central Houston Inc. and its board, the Downtown Redevelopment Authority, issued a request for proposal on Oct. 13, seeking bids from third-party consultants with expertise in office conversion to adaptive reuse. 

Since then: Central Houston Inc. president Kris Larson boasted of a “resurgent” downtown during the 2022 State of Downtown address. The deadline for proposals was Dec. 1, and applicants are under review. 

It is time to recognize the Rio Grande Valley as a rising borderland metropolis

What we wrote: The RGV remains overlooked mainly because it lacks a large central city and because of how the Census Bureau classifies metropolitan statistical areas. However, the RGV is the second-largest border conurbation with Mexico with an estimated 2.67 million people—a number that is expected to almost double by 2045. 

Since then: SpaceX is anticipating more tests of its massive Starship rocket (it’s bigger than NASA’s recent test of its Space Launch System) near Brownsville, a reminder of the company’s influence over the region and the RGV’s potential as a hub for the aerospace industry. In particular, the region will need to contend with housing prices, which are rising faster than the state overall. 

Matt Dulin and John Brannen


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