Houston’s Fix for Affordable Housing

By: Anneken Tappe · January 30, 2024 · Reading Time: 2 minutes

Secret Sauce

It’s a tough time to buy a house — unless you live in Houston, Texas.

Amid a nationwide surge in housing costs, and a long-standing inventory shortage, Houston has emerged as one of the few major markets with an actual inventory of affordable homes. The secret to its success? A small tweak to its zoning regulations.

Zoning Updates

Most American cities require single-family homes to sit on at least 5,000 square feet of land. These laws were intended to ensure homeowners had ample land to go with their houses. But as the population has grown, these zoning policies have instead contributed to the urban sprawl, while also making good neighborhoods more exclusive and expensive.

In Houston, however, things have gone differently. Around the turn of the century, 25 years ago, the city limited the minimum lot size requirement from 5,000 square feet to only 1,400 feet for a single-family home. That made it easier to build small-lot homes, such as townhomes, and contributed to the available housing stock. With more homes to sell, average prices fell, enabling more equitable access to neighborhoods.

This same reform could theoretically be replicated in other cities, potentially bringing down the cost of housing across the country. Anothern Texan city, Austin, has already followed Houston’s lead by cutting its minimum lot size from 5,750 to 2,500 square feet. Arizona, Massachusetts, and New York are also exploring similar policies.

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