I lived in Montrose for eight years before moving to the Heights. When I first started looking for rent houses in that area in 1989, there were a lot of cheap places available, but not very many desireable ones. There were lots of older places that had seen their last real maintenance work sometime during the Johnson administration. There were lots of places that had burglar bars on the windows. All around you'd see empty lots, sometimes even empty blocks, and quite a few empty houses.
You don't see that any more. People want to live in Montrose and the Museum District and the Fourth Ward and many other inside-the-Loop neighborhoods, and on the whole that's a good thing. There are certainly plenty of people who want a historic house in their historic neighborhood, and God bless all of them, but there's more people who wouldn't consider living near downtown if there wasn't shiny new construction available to them. I may cringe at their taste in architecture, but I recognize that a viable inner city - economically as well as politically - needs people in it, and given a choice I'd rather they buy a townhome here than a McMansion out in Sugar Land or the Woodlands. Diversity comes in many forms, and I like to think of this as one of them.
All that said, I have a strong distaste for Perry Homes, more so than any of the other builders that do many of the same things in Montrose and surrounding areas. The political aspects, which the Press piece justifiably spends time on, is of course a part of that. Bob Perry has spent a lot of money in order to get a lot of legislation passed to protect himself and his business from the consequences of his actions. I have nothing but contempt for that, and frankly if that were the only sin he committed I'd consider him a villain. He's a major part of a bigger problem in this state and this country, and I hope the day comes soon when the power he's bought himself is rendered impotent.
What makes this more personal for me is what happened to the last rent house I lived in, before I bought into the Heights. I lived in a small bungalow on a one-block street near Montrose and West Dallas. When I moved into it in 1993, there were exactly three houses on the east side of the block, with mine in the middle. There were big empty grass-covered lots at each end of the block, with a small warehouse used by (I think) the Museum of Fine Arts for storage next to the southernmost house. On the opposite side of the street was a big parking lot, theoretically to be used as overflow for the American General building on Allen Parkway but in reality mostly empty save for some use by Nino's and Vincent's restaurants on West Dallas. (Having that right across the street made it awfully convenient for our friends when we threw a party, let me tell you.) Next to the parking lot was an old warehouse that had been converted into lofts.
In 1997, my house, which had changed hands a couple of times since the death of the original owner in 1994, was put up for sale, since the real estate market was beginning to boom. I considered buying it, but the price was too high for me and it needed a lot of work. Not buying that house turned out to be a great decision.
Since 1993, that block has changed completely. The empty lot at the southern end of the street, directly opposite the lofts, was built up with Perry townhomes before I moved out. Both the other empty lot and the old parking lot got Perryized after I left. I'd drive past the old house from time to time, and over time, that little street got more and more clogged with parked cars, since there were now so many more people living there. The last time I drove past, a couple of months ago, I noticed that the east curb was empty. The city had placed No Parking signs along it, including one in front of my old house. If I lived there today, I would be unable to park my car in front of my house.
And that in a nutshell is my beef with these guys. Their homes may well be lovely for the people who buy them, but they're built without any consideration for the neighborhoods they're in or the people who were there before them. I'm sure whoever lives in my old house has seen his or her property values appreciate, but who would ever buy that little house with no place to park from them? Heck, who would ever buy into that little converted warehouse, whose lofts no longer have a view of the downtown skyline like they once did? Drive around that area, as I do, and it's just more of the same - little bungalows surrounded by hulking townhomes, crammed as many to a lot as the law allows.
What the law allows was set in 1999, when a loophole in the city's ordinances on how many housing units can be built per acre came up for debate in the City Council. Developers wanted a cap of no less than 30 units per acre, neighborhood associations wanted it set at 24; ultimately, a compromise of 27 per acre was passed. I recall at the time hearing that the compromise figure would basically permit the same kind of lot-dividing that the developers wanted. Sure looks like it turned out that way to me.
The one tool that a neighborhood has in its arsenal against this kind of overbuilding is deed restrictions. I can tell you that even in an established neighborhood that values its historic heritage, they're a pain in the butt. Every block has to be separately protected, and a supermajority of homeowners on that block have to sign a petition (I think it's 70%). The Woodland Heights has been doing this work almost continuously since I moved in back in 1997.
I'm going to close this post by noting a quote in this story about new home construction:
"It's the townhouses that are hard (to sell) right now," [realtor Lee] Hudman said. "There are just too many. That's been the big problem with re-sale. Why buy a used town home when you can get a good price on a new one because there are too many units and not enough buyers?"